One, two, three.
One, two, three.
One, two, three.
First, it was the fear of college. Wait, no. That wasn’t right. It was the fear of failure in the collegiate setting. She would proofread each essay with exemplary intent. Perfection was absolutely key. As each semester brought a new height of academic hardship, one-hundred level to two-hundred level to three-hundred level courses, she found that a single proofing would not quite do her work justice.
One draft turned to
Two drafts turned to
Three drafts turned to–
Starting over and over on each assignment became the norm until she could no longer do her assignments in pencil. Her erasures would wear out papers until her writing was no longer legible. She could stare at a blinking cursor for hours on end as each paragraph that she wrote had to be completely deleted. Every thought seemed wrong. Each point had to be made anew. No sentence, form, or statement was right as rain. How could she submit works that were deemed unfit for simple review? Missing assignments turned into bad grades.
Her education turned into a platform of inability. A drastic change between learning new material to falling behind made her feel as if her brain was turning to mush between her ears. The anxiety of failure started to cause her heart to race each time she walked down the narrow halls of the learning establishment. She was taking more restroom breaks to cry. To remember how to breathe. To bang her head against cold tile walls. To repeat the phrases that seemed to run through her mind every minute of every hour of every day that she spent in those classrooms. Classrooms that felt smaller and tighter each time she stepped inside.
You can’t do anything.
I can’t do anything.
We can’t do anything.
The more panic attacks she had at the school, the less drive she could find to show up. At first, she managed to email her professors whenever she would be absent, but more frequent her absences, the less often she bothered.
One absence turned to
Two absences turned to
Three absences a week.
Before long, she found herself coming to the realization that this was what “dropping-out-of-college” looked like. It was the sound of alarms going off every morning that turned to “snooze” that eventually became “turning off all alarms” as if there was no point in even trying to get up anymore. She began to find that even driving through the parking lot was enough to make her panic, then even the hint of a thought relating to school. Even the topics and courses that interested her became problematic. Her favorite subjects became unspeakable. Her favorite books unreadable.
She lost interest.
She lost feeling.
She lost all drive.
Then, she started to miss work. The idea that she would have to get into the car that brought her to places that made her terrified made her tremble. And at work she had friends. Friends would ask questions. “How are you?” “How is school going?” “What did you do over the weekend?” To which she could no longer satiate with a stable reply. She was not fine. School was over. She could only manage to sleep and sleep and sleep when she was not busy with anything else, and she was becoming increasingly overwhelmed with extra time. Still, the extra time felt occupied.
Instead of going to work, she found herself rocking back and forth on her couch by the front door, head whipping around at every sound that she heard about and beyond her. Each night, she would ask one of her friendly co-workers to cover shifts for the next day, make up excuses for why she couldn’t get out the door. Reasons for “running late” became the illegitimate children of anxious vomiting at the mere sight of her shoes at the walkway. Each time she “couldn’t make it”, she was surrounded with nagging. Threats of punishment filled her voice messages. Promises of demotions became ritual. Execution of firing, eminent.
No work meant
No income meant
No means to pay rent.
If she couldn’t pay rent, then she would lose her apartment. If she lost her apartment, she would lose her protection. Her protection. Her protection. The roof over her head was her solace as the outside world started to become a demon that sat in waiting just outside of that very thin door frame. An immoral society just itching to destroy the very fabric of her being was only a few feet from her at any given moment. A measly steel lock was all that kept her from absolute destruction. She found herself obsessed with that lock. Every hour, every hour, every hour, she found herself turning that humble switch– locking the door.
But three times.
Trips to the store became less frequent, as did meals, visits with friends, and phone calls with family. With every week that she spent in her home, she found that she was getting smaller and smaller. Looking in the mirror, she saw the outside world within herself. Her imperfections became obsessions. Even if she could afford food, she didn’t want to eat. She had too many chins, too many rolls. Instead of gaining pleasure from typical daily routines, she gained joy in checking her windows, opening and closing the doors to every room in her home, and always, always, always, locking the door.
But three times.
Her weight began to fluctuate. Her hair began to fall out. Her fingernails began to grow, and her body began to smell. Typical grooming habits and casual hygienic practices diminished considerably. Yet, every day, she managed to check every door and window, even going so far as to open and close, open and close, open and close the chimney flue. Should any living thing try to enter her home, to taint her domain, they would be met with a lock. Still, it seemed never to be enough. A door could not merely be closed, it had to be slammed. The very act of shutting had to be audible in every bone of her body. It required that she shake from the vibration and noise.
Her obsessive notions were not the only things that had to come in threes. Soon, she was throwing out her clothes. If she had dresses, she could only have three. She had to have three identical pillows or none at all. She could only have so many books as were divisible by three, as she had to have with films, electronic devices, artworks. She had to be rid of the excess, which she put in trash bags, which she placed just outside of her door once she accrued more than three at a time. When she closed the door from placing out trash, she again had to lock it.
Not one time,
Not two times,
But three times.
And when she woke every morning, she had to check the lock. Three times. She had to count her books, her films, her pillows, and gadgets. There were three of each utensil in her silverware drawer, and there were three oven mitts by the stove. Three towels by the bath and three toothbrushes at the sink. The things that she could not have in three’s, she decided to have none at all. Pictures of family members had to be carefully selected, the excess burned, and those individuals with fewer than three photographs had to have their image forever taken from her belonging.
One memory lost,
Two memories lost,
Three memories lost.
Next, she began to notice the unlocked door. Her life encapsulated by checking and counting and counting and checking and locking and picking and over and over, somehow she’d left the door unlocked. Unlocked. Unlocked. But it couldn’t have been unlocked– not while only she was in the apartment. Only she was in the apartment, and she checked the lock every hour, on the hour, missing hours only to sleep. Her life was managed by her ability to make sure that the outside world stayed just that: outside. She needed to separate herself. She ordered extra locks to put on the door.
Not one lock,
Not two locks,
But three locks.
Checking the front door became a series of threes in rapid succession. From top to bottom, she would pull the chains, just to put them right back into place, then turn the final metal lock at the handle over and over and over again. She came to find, however, that every third hour the door handle lock would be undone, horizontal, rather than vertical.
She hung her head.
Her eyes were wild.
She had to lock every lock again.
At night, she woke at the minor notion of a noise. Paranoid that the threshold that separated her from the clutches of the outside world, wild and ravaging, her eyes would frantically dart in the darkness. Her muscles tense and her hands riled, shaking. Her mind imagining movement from the shadows. Her neck feeling phantom breezes, causing the frail hairs on her skin to stand at edge. And every time that she would jolt awake from a shallow slumber, she had to stand. To move to the door. To check the locks. And regardless of whether the door’s handle had been compromised or not, she had to lock it three times. Not just the door’s lock.
The first chain lock,
The second chain lock,
The third chain lock.
She would slam the faux gold-plated rings three times each, as usual, then she would twist the handle’s lock.
Three times a clicking.
The looming thought that every third hour would leave one of her locks twisted, one part closer to the growling monstrosity that was the outside world, the domain of muggers and thugs, villains and convicts, perverts and deviants, it caused her to pry her eyes open. One a.m. needed coffee. Two needed a five-hour energy drink. Three required a systematic blaring of alarms. By the time the next day’s light was reaching the horizon, she was staring quizzically, tenderly, longingly, at her stapler. The thought plagued her to use it for prying. Keep her eyes open. Force the lids forever high, iris, pupils, all wide. Perpetually awake.
But even then,
As she stared at the stapler,
She heard a sound at the door.
First came the slinking of one chain,
Then was the clunk as the first latch popped from its hatch,
The second latch,
Finally, she heard the soft “click” as the main lock, on the handle, came undone. Without utilizing the aid of a stapler, her eyes wide enough that they just might pop from their resting place inside her head, she watched as the locks all came undone. Nothing was there to move them. In her fear, she nearly let the moment slip her by, hoping beyond a shadow of a doubt that maybe, just maybe, if she didn’t move, perhaps time would stop. But her semi-rational mind crept up to warn her. It whispered in the throes of her brain,
“If there is no lock, then there is nothing to separate you from the monstrous world outside.”
She rushed to her feet, though her knees wildly shook beneath her, threatening to buckle at any moment, then moved toward the door. Only.
The handle began to budge.
And in that moment, mere seconds after she’d moved toward the door.