Whenever I leave my home, I feel uneasy unless I check the front doorknob several times to make sure that it’s locked. My urge borders more than a little on the obsessive-compulsive side. The funny thing is that, each time I check it, I suspect that I may have accidentally unlocked it somehow. That, of course, leads to further checking, reinserting the key into the lock to make sure that I actually locked it, and wondering further if the key actually did its job correctly.
Now, while my compulsions run their course, any number of associated thoughts and images begin to shift the obsessions into overdrive. This is especially troubling when I’m pressed for time. It’s bad enough to be running late for an important meeting. It’s quite another to be running late for an important meeting while “what if” continuously nags you until you begin preparing to dump epinephrine into that fifty-one year old bloodstream in an attempt to survive your own self-created anxieties.
“What if” for me comes in many guises. Sometimes I think each obsession is assigned its own “what if”, to be deployed at the most inconvenient moment. The routine runs until I’m late for wherever I’m going, at which point being late itself serves as the new stress provocateur. Until that point, however, the entire collection of “what ifs” must play out so that order can be maintained at least to some limited extent. To facilitate the procedure, I insert the key into the door lock and turn it. The door is now locked.
Or is it?
As I muse about the prospect of somehow having failed to slide the latch in the closed position, it occurs to me that such a failure is probable and psychically associated with whether or not the toaster actually popped all the way up. That, of course, means I can either go check the toaster AND lock the door correctly, or pay a penalty by locking the door correctly twice in order to compensate for not going back into the kitchen. Being pressed for time, I usually opt for locking twice. The first correct lock goes perfectly, but…
…the second one somehow misses. Now, not only do I have to lock the door three times in succession, now I must also make sure the ceiling fan is turned off. It is, and now I have only to complete my locking assignment in order to get on with my day. Once, twice, three times a charm…
…for someone else. Not me. Either the second or third time was a scrub, so now it’s four locks in addition to making sure the refrigerator door is fully shut.
By now, I’m growing concerned that the lady across the parking lot, getting into her car, might wonder why that weird guy keeps unlocking his door, coming back outside, and locking it. Since I’ve never seen her before, I conclude that my self-consciousness is largely unwarranted. Besides, my focus now is on getting the door locked four times with no failures so I can meet the people who are waiting for me. Three times the key is inserted, the lock is turned, and the latch slides completely.
The fourth time…
Success! I’ve finally conquered my brass-plated nemesis in perfect form. A shutout, so to speak. With just enough time to keep my appointment, I head to the car with my head held high. I have endured much already this fine warm autumn afternoon. My anxieties are sufficiently quelled for the moment. I’m feeling victorious. Reaching into my pocket . . .
I pull out my car key.