Just checking Scenes from the life of an obsessive-compulsive

Emily Colas

Book - 1998

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Location Call Number   Status
2nd Floor 616.85227/Colas Checked In
New York : Pocket Books 1998.
Main Author
Emily Colas (-)
Physical Description
165 p.
  • From Part 1
  • Stars
  • I like to make stars in my head, or trace them with my finger. Just like you doodle with a pencil on the side of a piece of paper. Someone will be talking to me and I look like I'm listening, but really all I'm doing is drawing one line of the star for every one word that person says. Our conversation has to end on a multiple of 5, a complete star. My husband might say to me, "What do you want for dinner?" I'm looking him straight in the eyes so I guess he believes I'm deciding, but in fact I'm drawing and thinking 1 and 1/5 stars. He says, "How about pizza?" I still just stare at him, but think 1 and 4/5 stars. He continues, "Do you have any idea?" 2 and 4/5. Finally he'll conclude, "Why don't we just make pasta?" 4 stars.
  • Clean Time
  • It had been almost a decade since I'd taken a pill and I was not thrilled to find myself about to swallow one. I just stood in front of the sink for a minute or two and then got up the nerve to stick it in the back of my throat and drink it down. I imagined the outer casing was starting to dissolve and the powder inside was filtering up to my brain. I was waiting for something dramatic to happen. Maybe I'd fall down in convulsions or start hallucinating. Maybe I'd be overcome with the urge to kill my husband.
  • In college, I'd had a nasty drug habit and the unfortunate experience of a bad trip. After that night, I suffered from flashbacks for a few months and vowed never to take a pill again, harmful or otherwise. When I was pregnant, I relented and took vitamins. After I had kids, Advil. Several years later, today, I was moving on to this serious medication. I was a little shaky. It was probably the drug.
  • In The Beginning
  • My husband and I went to a bar for our first date. We were pretty young at the time, both in school. We, sat next to each other at a table in the back of the place. The lights were low, cigarette smoke clouded the room. Lots of atmosphere. We spent the night talking with our heads really close and our fingers twisted together. We had both just ended serious relationships so we wanted to take this slow. After the drinks, we went back to his place and stayed up for hours while he read poetry to me. Then we fell asleep, him on the couch, me in his bed.
  • You Want Fries With That?
  • I used to sit dazed at the table watching my father eat breakfast. It was always the same meal, toast, eggs, bacon and juice, which he'd always eat the same way, bite of toast, bite of eggs, bite of bacon, sip of juice. Bite of toast, bite of eggs, bite of bacon, sip of juice. My head would follow his hand around from his plate to his mouth, to his cup, to his mouth, to his plate...around and around until he'd finished. I'd have to shake my head and blink my eyes to snap out of my trance.
  • I Swear To Tell The Truth The Whole Truth And Nothing But The Truth...
  • You never know what kind of things people have going on in their lives. Secret things that you have no idea about. The woman who dry-cleans your clothes? Prostitute. The man who sells you coffee and a doughnut? Serial killer. And your friend who hasn't returned your calls lately? Heroin addict. And then I find out that my friend wasn't returning my calls because she was in rehab. Which I'll admit is a little jarring. I pretty much assumed that people just spill everything. I do. Maybe that's wrong. Maybe I shouldn't. How are you supposed to know what to tell and what not to tell? Maybe my dry cleaner really is a prostitute. Maybe I should stick to cotton. I feel confused. And of course bad for my friend who it turns out had been addicted to heroin for five years and was now trying to kick methadone. She says that she wanted to tell me, and almost did a couple of times, but she was just too embarrassed. I totally understand. But that still leaves this whole honesty issue unresolved.
  • Dinner At Seven
  • I've often been told this story of when my family went out for a Sunday night dinner, I was seven at the time, and I started making jokes about a woman I noticed who was a dwarf. After what I assume were a few uncomfortable minutes for my relatives, my aunt, wanting to put an end to my mocking, turned to me and said, "It's not nice to make fun of people, but if you have any questions I'd be happy to answer them for you." I sat there for a minute or two with I guess a pensive look on my face and then said, "Do you think she was normal until she was seven and then she got like that?" I'm sure my aunt answered no, but that still left open the question of what I would turn into.
  • And Dinner At 7:00
  • For our second date, my husband invited me over for dinner. This was going to be our first problem. I'd been under the impression of late that people were putting acid in my food. The kind that makes you hallucinate. This started a few months before when I was at a party and a friend of mine was eating sugar cubes from a bowl on the table. The hostess of the party yelled to him, "Don't eat that! It's where we put our acid!" My friend got this horrified look on his face, because by that point he'd probably had about ten hits. Then the hostess started laughing. Sure she was just kidding, but something like that could happen; you might accidentally eat someone's stash or maybe some malicious dealer with an attitude wants a laugh. As a result, I had stopped going to restaurants and dinner parties and just ate prepackaged food. It hadn't affected my life too much until this point, but I liked this guy. I could see myself getting serious about him. I figured that this was going to be our first trust test. I showed up at seven.
  • "Hey, I'm glad to see you. How was your day?" he asked as he softly touched my arm and slid his hand down to hold mine.
  • "Okay." I was pretty nervous. I wasn't sure if it was second-date anxiety, fear of my impending trip or both. "How about yours?" He started talking about what he'd been up to, his classes, the paper he was working on. I was looking at him and I thought I was listening, but truly, I was distracted by the smell of the cooking food in the next room. Being reminded of what was in store for me.
  • "I have to go check on dinner. Can I bring you a drink?" he asked.
  • "No thanks. Do you need any help?" Maybe I could monitor. Make sure he didn't slip anything into the sauce.
  • "No, I'm good."
  • Twenty minutes later he brought out dinner and set it on the table. Chicken and rice. We sat down. I shuffled the food around with my fork for a minute or two and eventually got up the nerve to cut a piece of chicken and spear it when he said, "I forgot the salt." He disappeared into the kitchen and I had this dilemma. I had about five seconds to decide whether or not to switch our plates. If he had laced my food, this was going to be my last meal before I was chopped up into little pieces and hidden out back. I didn't know if I should chance it. I did want to start this relationship on the right foot, but that's pretty hard to do looking up from the ground in a thousand pieces. He seemed like a nice guy, but don't a lot of serial killers? Ted Bundy. The clown guy. But there were other considerations. If he had poisoned my food, and I switched the plates, then he would die and I'd get questioned by the police.
  • "Um, ma'am, we found a horse dose of cyanide in your boyfriend's food. How do you suppose it got in there?" He'd have done the bad thing, but, unable to prove my innocence, I'd end up in jail. Plus, I'm not sure the cops would be patient enough to wait for me to answer them until I had completed a star.
  • "Ma'am. Could you answer our questions? Why aren't you speaking to us? Do you want a lawyer? Ma'am? Hello."
  • 8 stars. "I didn't do it. I switched the plates. I'm innocent..."
  • No. Don't think that way. Trust. Besides, he'd eaten more than I had and maybe he'd notice. I left the plates where they were. He came back to the table, sat down, and started talking to me. I listened and ate and waited the requisite forty-five minutes for the drugs to take effect. When the time passed and I wasn't hearing colors or anything, I started to relax a little.
  • Copyright © 1998 by Emily Colas
Review by Booklist Review

Colas worries a lot. She fears that the baby-sitter is using the family's toothbrushes. She suspects someone has tampered with her Cap'n Crunch. An obsessive-compulsive mother of two, Colas makes worry an art. This anecdotal, first-person account of Colas' illness is highly readable and funny. It also benefits from one of the symptoms of the illness (which affects 2.5 percent of Americans over the life course): a vague awareness that something is awry. At its best, Just Checking is a lighthearted glimpse of a treatable illness. But it's not the whole story. After she runs over a chipmunk, Colas repeatedly returns to the scene to verify that she has not killed a child. Behind the comic behaviors that Colas emphasizes is a gnawing disorder that is often painful and frightening. One hopes that Colas will take up her pen again, explore this part of her experience, and risk the darkness. --Lee Reilly

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

What could have been a fascinating exploration of a complex psyche never gets much beyond the level of stand-up comedy in this disappointing memoir of a young woman's life with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Substituting sarcasm for insight, Colas presents brief, easily digestible tidbits describing her overwhelming fear that she might catch diseases from strangers. She recounts her bizarre rituals of handwashing, garbage disposal, 800-number calling (is this product really safe?) that eventually hurt others and destroyed her marriage. Colas can be funny ‘(an episode of the stranger's underpants in the laundromat dryer is especially amusing ("I called my OB to ask her if she'd be willing to test me for gonorrhea")‘but her flat prose and superficial approach mask an intelligence that's never sufficiently engaged with this material‘a typical analysis is, "It sucks big time." Though Colas provides occasional glimpses of a disturbed childhood, she quickly covers them up with her flippant comic routine. She's disappointed that her illness is less interesting than heroin addiction‘it's just "insanity lite," she writes, and "Rock stars don't get magazine covers because they kept their audience waiting while they washed their hands twenty times." By keeping her book at the level of a Seinfeld routine, Colas ensures that readers will gain little insight into a condition that deserves better treatment than it gets in this memoir lite. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A frank and funny first-person account of living with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Colas, a young woman obsessed with the notion of being poisoned by drugs slipped into her food or contaminated by germs from ground-up hypodermic needles or diseased blood, tells of her life as a neurotic. At first she shares her fears with her husband, requiring him to taste the food on her plate before she will eat it, to question waiters about possible nicks and cuts on their hands, and to remove his shoes before entering the house. He complies with her demands, even performing extraordinarily complicated rituals when disposing of the kitchen garbage. After the birth of her second child , with her husband's patience wearing thin, she begins trying to conceal her fears from him while still compulsively checking everything from the soles of shoes to breakfast cereal. The power of her obsessions can be seen in her totally irrational belief that simply viewing a bleeding man on television could cause her to become infected with his germs. Not surprisingly, the marriage eventually fails, and Colas goes to a therapist who prescribes Prozac, which frees her from the grip of her obsessive thoughts and compulsive rituals. In outline, the story sounds bleak if not dull, but Colas has a sure comic touch and a mocking self-awareness that makes her memoir a delight. She tells her story in brief scenes, not necessarily in chronological order, from her childhood at summer camp, where a compulsive neatness was already evident, to her post-divorce job as a bar waitress, where she can ``smoke, drink, and be sarcastic, all while earning an honest living.'' With its unique patient's-eye viewpoint and perceptive honesty, a valuable contribution to the literature on obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.