I remember a day when I was six. I was in the second grade and my teacher was Mrs. Sellers – a woman who, for all intents and purposes, was never particularly fond of me. But on this day, I wasn’t in school. I was with my parents at Sam’s Club, riding on the bottom of the shopping cart. You know, in one of the places that those little pictures on the cart tell you not to ride? I was there with a bag of dog food.
It’s not so much the day I remember. I couldn’t tell you what we were doing at Sam’s Club – if we had a specific reason for being there, or if it was a spur-of-the-moment trip. Obviously buying dog food, but that wasn’t unusual. We owned a kennel. I don’t know what day of the week it was, or if we’d gone out to eat before. Those details are lost to me. But what I remember, clear as day, is what I was thinking about as I rode around in the bottom of that cart.
Specifically, I was thinking about the possibility of my school catching on fire and what I might do if that happened. Truth be told, it wasn’t even thinking so much as fantasizing. Not that I entertained fantasies about burning down my school. Don’t worry – I’m not about to confess to being a serial arsonist. That wouldn’t even be statistically likely. Upwards 90% of all arsonists are male. It’s just that, in my fantasy, I always got to play the hero. And the fantasy wasn’t so much about the school burning down as it was about me, single-handedly rescuing my classmates and rendering first aid to an unconscious teacher.
At this point, I would like to remind you that I was SIX.
But nothing, if not precocious.
Either way, this was what I thought about. I had the scenarios in my head, and I would go over and over them. They weren’t the obsessive-compulsive fears, although I suspect that they may have sprung from those. But by the time I was six, I already had problems with OCD. I knew the burning feeling of panic over irrational thoughts. It would overcome me and I’d feel compelled to check the freezer to make sure my parents hadn’t been killed and put inside. That kind of fear would consume me. But the feelings I had when I thought about rescuing people… they were different. Warm in my chest. Exciting. The thoughts were ones that I sought out, and I enjoyed the fantasies. But I never told anyone, because I knew even then that it sounded weird.
In fact, I know that it still sounds weird. But we’re all about honesty here, right?
That kind of thinking wasn’t confined to isolated instances in shopping carts. It consumed the majority of my imaginative play. While my friends took their Barbies and acted out love triangles and soap opera plots, or made them have babies and live in suburban bliss, I took mine and put them through all kinds of hell, for the purpose of being able to pull them out of it.
My Barbies didn’t have sex. Instead, they had near-fatal hiking accidents. They had terminal illnesses. They had kidnappings. My Barbies spent most of their time utterly distraught. Desperation, despair, and deception. Those were the things that went into my fantasy play. There were occasionally murders. But more often than not, my scenarios were the kind that could be CPR-ed out of.
I had an unusual fascination with CPR.
Other dolls got the same treatment, although instead of being rescued by their doll friends, they were rescued by me. Orphans that I took in and adopted. Rescue from abusive homes. I played detective. I solved kidnappings left and right.
I watched a LOT of Law & Order. And Emergency. And Rescue 911. And maybe that guided my play, but honestly, I think that it just made my play more accurate. I was drawn to those shows, and I still am. In fact, when I was 9, I started watching the FBI Files, and for many years, I was convinced that there was a future for me as a forensic scientist. I was actually one of the kids for whom CSI ruined that fantasy rather than created it. The obsessive-compulsive in me couldn’t handle the gore.
When I discovered The Sims, there was a whole new way to play this stuff out. Before the Great Harddrive Crash of 2003, I had a soap opera that spanned about 600 in-game screen shots. I considered my Sims actors, so I never actually had to kill them off – but there were deaths. There were situations where one character couldn’t save the other in time. And yes, there were rescues. Brilliant, heroic rescues from terrible situations. Every time I wrote one of those scenes, that same warm feeling of desire crept over me.
Is that twisted?
I’m not sure.
But I’m here to admit that despite or because of my OCD, I still have this desire to save. I think that the OCD fuels my “what if” fire so well that I’ve had to come up with some way to handle it. If I let every what if that crossed my mind scare me silly, I wouldn’t ever move. I wouldn’t get out of bed.
In fact, there was a period of time during which I didn’t.
I over-prepare in my mind for emergencies, and I allow myself to find some pleasure in the idea that if there was an emergency, I could save a life.
Why is this relevant? It’s been on my mind for a few weeks, ever since I had a dream in which one of the side plots revolved around my administering emergency medical attention to my Russian professor. Of course, I was also wearing a burqa so that I could get into the bathroom, which had a dress code. But that’s beside the point.
I woke up from that dream feeling completely uneasy. It wasn’t a nightmare. But it was disturbing. Faced with the dream images of the man I consider a mentor requiring medical attention… faced with even the idea of something bad happening… it wasn’t ultimately enjoyable. But even in all of that uneasiness, there was a familiar warm feeling. The opportunity to rescue. And I realized that somewhere in my mind, that longing to do something really good was still there.
Truth? I’ve been obsessing about it a little. I catch myself thinking about what I would do if I came upon a car crash. I imagine administering CPR. I am certified, and will probably always take steps to stay that way. I prepare for emergency situations.
Obviously, I don’t really want to find myself in a situation where these actions are warranted. I’ve been through my share of hell. I don’t wish that on anybody, and in an ideal world, no one would NEED to do this kind of thing. And I hate that the fantasy I have comes at the expense of another person’s well-being. After all, someone has to be hurt or in danger in order to be saved.
I’m not saying that I’m looking for that to happen. It’s a fantasy that is best enjoyed unfulfilled. Kind of like sex with your favorite rock star (the one who, in your dreams, is a real sweet heart but, in reality, is a douche). No… I’m not saying any of that.
Just that, inside of me, there’s still a little girl who wants to pull people out of fires and do something good in the world. And that’s just a part of who I am. And that, if you know me, there’s a good chance that at some point, I’ve sat and thought about what I would do if you suddenly had a heart attack, or choked, or got hit in the head by a stray falling satellite. The good news: In my mind, I always manage to save you. If I were just letting you die, then there might be cause for concern.
I’m sure there’s a great psychopathological explanation for all of this. I’ll spare you.
I’m not even sure why I wrote this post.
It just felt worth saying.