Monday, November 12, 2012

Memoir: The jug of water

She set the jug of water on top of the toilet.
It was a plastic milk carton being re-purposed for a lesson.
She said something like, “This is all the water you can use today. You can’t run the water. You’ll have to use what’s in the jug.”
There was no convincing her to do otherwise.
And I thought I was going to die.
I was about 13 at the time, which would make it 1976. We were living in the country, in the house my parents built after they sold most of our farm and the farmhouse.

I understand now where my mother’s anger came from. I ran water long and fast, washing and rewashing my hands, trying to get them clean.
I usually used the bathroom just off her and my father’s bathroom, instead of the larger one in the hallway, because it seemed more private and less contaminated. So they could hear the amount of water I was running.
“You’re going to run the well dry,” she warned me.
My parents had told me to stop running “so much water.” But I had disobeyed, something that wasn’t done lightly in my home.
I didn’t understand why I felt compelled to wet my hands, soap them up, rub them together for a certain time, then rinse, and then do it all over again, again and again. All while running the water.
My hands and wrists were red and raw looking. But I thought I was just doing what everyone should be doing, washing my hands thoroughly.
I hadn’t heard of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and I don’t think my parents had either.

With the jug of water, I had to pour water out, just enough to wet my hands, then lather up with soap, then pour water on my hands again.
I hated getting soap on the jug when I lifted it to pour out the rinse water.
I worried about so many things: was I getting all of the soap residue off? If not, and I touched a plate or something that someone else might touch and then eat from, then that person could get diarrhea, because I had learned from my mother that eating from dishes not properly rinsed could give people diarrhea.
What if my hands didn’t get clean from the cold water? What if I had germs on them and spread them to others and made them sick?
What if I used all the water in the jug and there was none left, and I still had to wash my hands?
Oh, I hated the jug.

  My mother made me use the jug for a few days, but gradually, I started running the water again, warm water, hot water, to get my hands cleaned well and rinsed well.
  And the jug went away. But nothing else did.

  If you were reading more about this 13-year-old girl, what would you like to know about her?

26 comments:

  1. Oh, that's so sad. I can understand your mom's frustration especially not knowing, but I can also understand how hard that must have been for you.

    I would be interested in reading more. What did you feel like, what were your thoughts, what sort of things did you deal with, what was school like...?

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    1. Kristina, Thank you. I think it was hard for my mother and for me. I will be writing more about being young and having OCD along the way, so I'm glad you interested in reading more! :-)

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  2. Did she ever notice that no one else washed their hands the way she did? Did her mom ask why the girl's hands and arms were so red and dry?
    Did she want to not feel this way?
    Does she know that there are many people out her loving her?

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    1. Thank you, Middle Child, for your comment. When I was 13-years-old and longer, I felt very alone and isolated, and I definitely didn't want to feel the way I did. But I didn't know what to do about it.

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  3. I just read the section at the top of your blog page that said My OCD. You mentioned dong things in three. I have read that others the threes thing. Have you found anything about that through doctors or therapists you see?

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    1. I have read about counting compulsions, which I have done, mostly in the past. Different people do things using different numbers. It's a compulsion to try to ease anxiety.

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  4. I agree with Elizabeth, I hate that jug for you too! I know your mom meant well, but from your 13 year old vantage point that must have felt so incredibly cruel. I'm so, so sorry.

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    1. Thank you, Sunny. I think it was a matter of my mother reaching her limits of frustration and doing what she thought would help.

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  5. Wow it's amazing how vivid this memory still is. Sounds like it had a profound impact. Thank you for sharing Tina.

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    1. So much of it is still vivid, Keith. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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  6. This practically ripped my heart out. Maybe because I have and still struggle with hand washing, this just pulled and tugged at me.
    What would I want to know more about this girl? I know she resented the jug, but was she angry at her mother? As a grown up you can rationalize that the mother didn't know about OCD, was working out of her own concern and frustration not only of having a daughter washing her hands for long periods of time, but a genuine concern for waste of water. (I feel a lot of guilt for that myself)

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    1. Krystal Lynn, yes, I was angry then and felt very misunderstood and alone. I think my mother was very frustrated and angry and didn't know what else to do.

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  7. I understand not wanting to run a well dry, but I do feel sad over the harsh method. I had to work a bit w/ my oldest when he was using way too much toilet paper (like half a roll). But we just talked about why it was bad for planet earth and what an appropriate amount would be. After a few reminders, he finally got it.

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    1. Lisa, you are such an understanding mom! Your boys will benefit greatly from that.

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  8. How did she manage those three days? Since she obviously survived. (I'm sure anxiously) But still survived!

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    1. Jodi, something in me just couldn't give up, I guess. I can't really explain how I survived, but it's something I want to explore.

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  9. I love that you ae telling your story, Tina. By telling your story, others will know they are NOT ALONE.

    Ever.

    Love. Xxx

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  10. I would like to know if she felt guilty about her need to hand wash; also, when did she feel happiest and safest?

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    1. I felt a lot of guilt for being "disobedient" and making my parents upset at the things I did. I want to explore when I felt happiest and safest. Thanks for your comment.

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  11. I would like to know everything. What she was feeling. What she was thinking. What were her compulsions. What did she do to escape her inner torment. You are such a gifted writer. I hope you're working on your memoir. I will be first in line to buy it.

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    1. Grace, thank you so much for your kind comment! I am writing, but I have a lot to do! I am looking forward to YOUR memoir! :-)

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  12. This sounds like it would be incredibly tough for that young child. I can't even imagine it. I am not sure what I would want to know ... I would instead wish to tell that child not to feel badly about her actions, that it is not her fault, and that she will be able to get the help she needs soon.

    Thinking of you and hoping you are well :0)

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