After finishing her breakfast cereal Nicole hurried to the kitchen sink to start the ritual. She rarely cooked since cleaning up was more difficult afterwards. Setting down her bowl and spoon, she counted out five paper towels from the dispenser. Turning on the hot water, she took one paper towel and started scrubbing the kitchen sink and counter top with warm, soapy water. Throwing away the wet paper towel, she reached for the next one, which was then used to rinse the sink and counter top. By now the water was scalding hot. She adjusted the temperature to a barely tolerable level, then started furiously scrubbing the bowl and spoon with yet another paper towel. After finishing with a long, thorough rinsing, she carefully placed them on the paper towel sitting close by.
Nicole was now finally able to wash her hands using more dish soap, then rinse them, flinching at the scorching water. Holding her red hot hands up like a surgeon preparing for work, she turned the faucet off with her elbow. She allowed them to cool and dry, counting to fifteen. She then grabbed the last paper towel, patting them dry. Her hands now stinging, she reached for the antibacterial liquid. Holding her breath, she squirted the germ killer into her palm, trying not to scream in pain as she applied it. Violently shaking her burning hands in the air, tears streamed down her face. She then observed the painful bleeding cracks. This was just one of the sacrifices she had to pay to protect herself.
Wiping the tears with the back of her arm, she made her way to the living room. How much longer could she live this way? Unable to work any longer, she had become a prisoner in her own home. She just recently started to suffer anxiety whenever she left the house.
“Now it’s agoraphobia?” her husband had responded incredulously to her psychiatrist. Nicole sat in a corner chair, hugging a pillow, embarrassed and ashamed.
“You know,” he continued, “I don’t know how much more I can take of this. What are you going to do about it? First it was obsessive-compulsive behavior, then she became a germophobe, now this! She’s not getting better, she’s getting worse!”
The doctor went on to explain once again he believed it all stemmed from her childhood, her mother’s death when she was a rebellious teenager, and feeling guilty for never being able to ask for forgiveness. She had heard these things over and over until she became sick to her stomach anytime it was mentioned.
At that point, Nicole tuned the conversation out. Feeling totally alone and helpless, she purposed in her heart she would do everything in her power to hide her erratic rituals and bizarre fears. She came to the realization later on that this was next to impossible.
She distanced herself from her husband. They became more like room-mates, sharing only living quarters. She also withdrew from her friends. She rarely left the house, spending day after day alone, repeating her pointless rituals she had become enslaved to.
Staring out her living room window, tears continued to streamed down her face.
“Jesus, I used to know you. When I was a child, I went to church and prayed that prayer with my teacher. I believed you came into my life. But I drifted away from you. I’m sorry other things in my life became more important. But I have always believed you were there waiting for me to come back. I need you so much now. I can’t live like this any longer. I don’t know what else to ask from you, but for your help. Please, help me!”
Suddenly her phone rang, startling her. Grabbing a kleenex and wrapping it around her cell phone, she answered. It was Jon.
“Nicole? I was just talking to my friend, Kyle. Guess what? He said he knows you from a church you both attended when you were kids. And guess what? His dad is now the minister there! He said his dad would love to come over for a quick visit. Just a quick one, Nicole. I really think that’s a great idea. How about it, Nicole?”
Nicole swallowed hard. Realizing that this was a swift, direct lifeline sent from above, she had to grab hold quickly and tightly.
“Sure, Jon. I’d like that,” she answered softly.
She felt herself slowly lifting out of the dark, cold water.
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