Germophobe and the City

September 19 – September 25

No lie, I am a complete germophobe. And living in San Francisco could most definitely be one of the worst places for a girl like me to end up at. It’s actually never bothered me that much, thriving among the filth and (literal) shit that comes up at every bus stop or on Market Street and in between cars and alleys. No, it’s all just a general, dismissive part of sharing this 7X7 with a million other human beings. With human beings comes human bodies– human bodies that secrete deliciously disgusting bodily fluids. I’ve been exposed to pretty much each and every one of them, and in the exposure you just simply become numb.

I am not a stranger to shared spaces. The first home I ever really knew was my dad’s sports memorabilia store, spending my time behind the back in the old rooms of what was once a clothing store. But when I wasn’t at his store, there was our house in Concord, home to my family of four and my aunt, uncle, and grandpa. That’s where my aversions began. Aversion to dirty tubs and giant Daddy Long Legs making their home in my bathrooms. As I was sitting on the toilet once I was checking to see if there were any spiders (or unidentified stains) running along the bowl, I immediately regretted the stupid decision. I knew there was going to be something gross, so why bother looking? Why augment my fears for the worst, for days like every time I am in my apartment bathroom now and check for spiders. The uncertainty is just what would have killed me rather than me being a paranoid survivor. Some people care less than others– I am the other, the one who still is amazed that one man’s trash is also his failed ideal of what is considered clean enough. Put these varying ideals in one household, you get a girl turned young woman who literally does cringe at the sight of the littlest mold or clogs of hair. But nothing ever beats that ferocious Long Legs in attack mode that really was on the side of the toilet that one time.

So as I examine the little incidents that seemed like catastrophes in my life now, you do wonder at how I could have lasted this long, how I have managed to keep my germ-loathing tendencies fairly under wraps. Some things, actually, I can’t hide. Just take a look at my hands– my boyfriend did, and when your boyfriend sees on a delicate little woman scarred and drying hands that feel like leather and bleeds at the knuckles, you’ve got some explaining to do. My excessive hand-washing forever reminds me of the ongoing struggles of grappling with filth, how it will never really be gone even as I run my hands in hot water for 20 seconds (Happy Birthday sung twice). Or when I drink bottled water– I am a master champion at water-falling all and any bottle, even if it’s my own. The idea of even me back-washing makes me want to throw up.

The only way I know how to really overcome these vile things is just simply taking matters into my own hands. It’s very exhausting, but cleaning helps me cope; no one’s hands I trust better at scrubbing away grime than my own, that of someone deathly repulsed by it. My cleaning is the closest to nuking any room tainted, like my desk or the bathroom after the toilet clogged and overflowed last Monday. Goodness, that Monday. When the clog caused the overflow, it was a humbling and bitter reminder that I have an issue, a silent vendetta that will never end. Can I eradicate all germs in this city? Of course not. But it doesn’t hurt to try to avoid any incidents like mopping up the bathroom floor at all costs.

Nothing beats my bathroom after that incident. If my dad had it his way, he wouldn’t let his daughters clean their own homes. He once told my sister that “if you don’t know how to do something… it’s probably because you’re not SUPPOSED to do it.” Dirty housework was his main reference. Anything dirty he would throw himself in harm’s way for us, especially the hardships of scrubbing down bathrooms and unclogging toilets. If we didn’t grow up, this would be ideal. But the thing is I am 24 now and little things like cleaning my own house thrill me, because as an adult, it’s a nice feeling to know you have your own house to keep and clean. And as for bathrooms, he winces at the thought of me 60 miles out of his reach having to do this dirty deed on my own, but he knows about my aversion. He understands very well that nothing beats my idea of clean. It’s the same as, if not better, his.

For that little victory after what I thought was the worst battle of this week, it would only get a little worse. Just when you think you can enjoy the rest of your weekend in the City, stay over at your boyfriend’s for the first time, you let loose– your monthly card is punched in red ink. Fucking period. I can’t feel grosser than when it’s that time of the month, and any girl who said otherwise is just lying. But my ideal weekend ahead was just in reach, and I was not going to let the forces of nature yet again make me a hermit. I kept smiling, packed on the tampons, and headed out that Friday night, wide eyed and ready to drink wine and enjoy the company of my boyfriend who would cook us dinner at his in the Sunset. Everything was in my control. Everything felt clean. The evening was off to a great start, some music, a whole bottle of wine, me dancing around in a dizzy and drunk stupor as he cooked. Stupid fun after a stressful week for the both of us. It was sure a night to just be weird and ourselves around just the two of us. At a pause in the evening I came to a halt as he stepped away from the stove and pulled me close to him for a comforting embrace. And then,

“What’s that?”

The stool behind me was where I was just sitting moments before, the faint streaks of blooded across the wood.

I darted to the bathroom door to access the damage. I had leaked pretty badly. Perhaps it was a good thing I was already drinking or else I would have been more of a spazz. But I raced to get a new pad and my Tide To-Go pen to start the recovery. My boyfriend’s bathroom didn’t help either, shared with his roommates and crowded with an overflowing trash bin and a broken toilet seat. I was being cornered in possibly the worst place at the moment. I could hear something outside the door. Opening it a crack, I could hear him laughing. He wasn’t overthinking this situation, yet he wasn’t the one on his period. Still, there really was a lot to laugh about. In minutes of stepping out all cleaned up he just hugged me as before and kissed the top of my head. “I’ve seen worse,” he told me. Even if it was worse, the matter of fact was that dirty things weren’t going to destroy this relationship, this night. In my own personal hell I overthink everything, especially gross incidents as right then. But here right now it’s just part of the night’s adventures, nothing appalling. It soon will just fade into a funny memory that he and I will look back on with just the same sentiments of how we could just really be ourselves around each other, and accepting of all that comes, and leaks, out of us.

And still I emerge, a victor every week that I live in this city. As said before, I can’t escape filth forever. There’s always worse when it comes to living out in the city, just as there are better, and it’s these better things that keep me anchored to the urban landscape despite disgusting setbacks. Keeping clean is the least I can do, and that itself is rewarding when you’re a germophobe. Anything you touch turns to sterilized gold. Co-exist and just remember all the fun nights and beautiful places and loving people that a place like this has given you. And suddenly, you find yourself smiling, even when where you find yourself is right on a crowded N-line car headed for downtown in stale, 90-degree weather– ground zero and at your most vulnerable sitting next to a man who smells. Just smells.

If there’s something I don’t know how to do or deal with, I am supposedly not meant to deal with it at all. But as I get on and move through this messy youth, I guess that this complete mess is just mine to make clean, with only myself to teach me.

 

 

 

 

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