Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Confessions - Obsessive Compulsive Reading

Nervously, I walk through the white-painted, wooden doors that lead me into a room that reminds me of my old school’s gym; spacious, dim, chilly and absolutely no windows. A small group of people sits gathered around in a circle in the center of the room. A quick headcount and I come to realize that there are at least fourteen other people here. I inhale deeply in an attempt to get rid of my nerves. I see that at least one of the other attendants spotted me so there is no going back. I can’t change my mind; no changing my mind the last minute before running backwards through the doors again. 

“Name, please?” a feminine voice startles me. On my right, I find a woman sitting at a table. She eyes me questioningly and I don’t know what she’s expecting me to say or do. She caught me by surprise.

“Name?” she asks again. This time I try to smile, but I am too nervous. 

“Vicky,” I say. “My name is Vicky.”

She takes a marker and scribbles something down. When she hands it to me, I see it’s a name tag and I stick it to the front of my shirt. I am not certain if this is what I am supposed to do or not, but she doesn’t laugh at me so I figure it’s okay.  

“Go on,” she smiles encouragingly. “Go have a seat. Marie will be here any moment.”

Marie. The woman I had spoken to on the phone. 

Very self-conscious, I make my way over to the center of the room. I try to make as little eye contact with other people as possible; two people catch me off guard. One is a teenage boy who just shies away the moment he notices that I noticed him watching me. The other person is a woman, in her thirties I guess, and she smiles. I attempt to smile back, hoping I don’t scare her.
Then there’s the matter of where to sit. Do I take the empty chair closest to me or the middle one out of three empty seats? In a moment of complete and utter insanity, I make my way across the opening of the circle. 

“Is this seat taken?” I ask in a hushed voice. The woman who smiled at me earlier – Joanne, her name-tag says – shakes her head and sends me another friendly smile. I wonder if this is the first time she comes here, too. I don’t ask. Without a word, I sit down and place my handbag in my lap. I try not to look lost and check if I turned off my phone to keep myself busy. The awkwardness prolongs. I hate every single second of it. In my mind, I list all the reasons why I shouldn’t be here. The list is endless. Maybe I should make a run for it after all? If I quickly grab my handbag and don’t look back, I might make it out of here. Mentally, I prepare myself for my walk of shame. 

“Good evening, everyone.” A blond woman drapes her jacket over the back of an empty chair and while I watch her do that, I know I blew my chances of ever getting out of here. “My name is Marie,” she continues with a friendly smile. I swallow. I am not ready. I shouldn’t have come here in the first place.  “Did everyone sign in and get a sticker with their names?” 
Some people in the group respond with a yes, but certainly not everyone. As I stare at my shoes, I notice in my peripheral view that some people nod their head in response -- I don’t do that either. I’m wearing the damn sticker; proof enough that I made it past the registration table. I need new shoes, I think as I inspect them intently. I’ve had this pair of shoes for a very long time; they’re my favorite pair of shoes, and it’s really starting to show. Sometime next week I should take the time to go shopping for shoes. I dread it. I hate shopping. 

Marie has taken place in her chair and I can’t tell for sure, but I think she glances around the circle. There is an awkward silence for a few moments and to take my mind off it, I count again. This time, though, I count the feet. I am not going to look up to find out how many people I’m supposed to share my story with. Counting their feet means that I don’t have to raise my head and that’s all that matters at the moment. I see quite a few male shoes, some shoes that must belong to women, and a few of which I can’t decide whether they belong to a man or a woman.  Thirty-two shoes in total form the circle, mine not included.  Together with sixteen other people, I’m seated in this silly and awkward circle. 

“Let’s begin, shall we?” Marie breaks the silence. It makes me wonder how much time has passed already. To me it feels like half an hour, at the least, but my watch says it has only been a couple of minutes. I want to go home and curl up on the couch. 

“Is there anyone who wants to share their story?” Marie asks. Her dumb question makes me chuckle. The moment I realize what I just did, I try to hide it with a cough. I wonder if anyone buys it but I don’t look up to find out. Instead, I stick to my thoughts of how no one in their right mind was going to start talking first. I definitely wasn’t. In fact, I don’t think I’ll be sharing anything tonight. Sorry, Marie with the crazy blond curls and multi-colored flower dress, but I just don’t think I belong here.

Surprised, I look up when I hear the teenage boy say Hello to the rest of the group. He had looked just as uncomfortable as me being here. Obviously, I am not that good at reading people. This thought makes me chuckle again. I blame it on the nerves and the uneasiness, but still, I lock eyes with the boy and silently I apologize. I hope he knows I’m not laughing at him.
He tells us his name is David, as if we’re illiterate people and thus can’t read the name on his sticker. David continues to speak after a short hesitation but I’m too caught up in my own thoughts to make out the words. I start to panic. I want to get out of here, even more than I had ten minutes ago. I envision all the possible ways of leaving this place; fake calls, remembering an urgent dentist appointment, bathroom break, leaving without excusing myself at all… Name it and I promise the thought crossed my mind. 

A nudge on my arm brings me back to planet Earth and I realize everyone is staring at me. Instantaneously, my face turns a shade of red, unseen and unknown to mankind before. One day, I’m sure, people will name this color after me. Suddenly, it’s very hot in here as well. Did someone turn on the heat?

“Vicky?” Marie asks, and as a deer caught in the headlights of a car, or a toddler caught with his hands in the cookie jar, I cringe in my seat. 

“It’s your turn,” Joanna whispers from next to me. I am not sure if anyone else heard her. Maybe they did; maybe they didn’t. I tell myself it doesn’t matter. 

“My turn?” I squeak. Breathing has become a whole lot harder. Was there even oxygen left in this room?

“Yes,” Marie says calmly. “David, Christine, Cari, Nicole, Ian and Joanne have been so generous to share their story with the rest of us.”

I shake my head. I can’t believe I missed all that. I try to even my breathing while Marie addresses me again. 

Please share your story with us. You don’t have to, of course, but…” she motions to the rest of the circle. “We would all greatly appreciate it if you did us the honor of sharing your story.”
I want to disappear. Instead of being a red traffic sign, I want to be transparent, invisible. Most of all, I don’t want to be part of this pathetic circle. 

I make the mistake of facing some of the people and they smile reassuringly. They nod in encouragement for me to talk. I can’t. I won’t. They don’t look away. Even if I would want to speak up, I have no idea what to say. I blanked out while the others shared their story so I have no clue as to what I’m supposed to share with them. Why can’t I just wake up from this nightmare?
I know that there’s only one option for me; I have to give them something. Just when Marie opens her mouth to say something else, I find my voice.

“Vicky,” I say quickly. “My name is Vicky and…” I swallow away the lump that cuts off my air supply. “And I suffer from a severe case of OCR.” Now that I have this off my chest, I figure I should just get the rest of my story out in the open as well. “OCR…or Obsessive Compulsive Reading if that’s what you want to call it. I’ve struggled with this for a while now and it’s getting harder and harder. I try my best not to read, but then I relapse and I will read numerous books after one another. It’s either all or nothing. I can’t read at a reasonable pace and I can’t quit reading mid-story. I have to read all the books in a series and can’t stand the Post-Book Blues – Post Book Blues is similar to the baby blues after giving birth, only, Post Book Blues does not involve babies, nor births, but books and the lives of fictional characters instead. I have found that the only solution to deal with those Post Book Blues is to read even more. It’s a vicious cycle I can’t get out – a downward spiral if you will. When I start reading a book, I forget about the world; everything that’s not related to the book that I hold in my hands will have to wait until I’ve read the very last word of the book. Once I start reading, I can’t stop. When a book doesn’t suck me in from the start, or when it doesn’t blow me away, I still continue to read. I will force myself to read the rest of the book in fear -- and hope --  that it’ll magically take a turn for the better and I don’t want to miss out on what could be a great story. I’ve come to realize that this is not normal but I can’t help but think that those characters deserve to be read. What are their lives for if no one reads them? Everything they go through would all be for nothing if we didn’t take the time to read their story. In order for fictional characters to live their lives, we must read their stories. It’s a blessing and a curse all the same and I wonder – but highly doubt it – if I’ll ever be able to read like a normal person. My goal is for one day to be able to read for an hour or so and put the book I’m reading aside. I want to be able to savor a book instead of slaughtering it like I’m used to. Reading is an obsession, a compulsion, an addiction. Right now, at this point in my life, books will be my downfall and it scares me that this doesn’t bother me in the least.”

A little shocked, I realize the length of the monologue I just held and heat rises to my cheeks once again. For a moment, I forgot the other people; I forgot that I had an audience. I shared my every thought and now I was afraid for the laughter that would follow. It didn’t. The room stays quiet for just a while longer and I’m afraid they’ll kick me out of the group for being pathetic. But then, Joanne leans over to me and pats me on the back. 

“Wonderful!” she grins widely. 

From the other side of the circle, a guy shares his thoughts as well. “Exactly my thoughts,” he says.  “I know perfectly well what it’s like.”
Other people agree with him, others simply nod. It’s Marie who surprises me most.
She stands up from her chair and starts applauding – not something I anticipated. And then, the others follow her example and before I know it, I’m indulged in pats on the back and sideway hugs. 

It’s there and then that I finally realize that not being normal is not so crazy after all.  

Copyright © 2012 Vicky Claerbout

This is what I'd call a blog idea that got out of hand. I planned on writing this (short) part on how I literally read one book after another at times and not a single book at other times -- It's an all or nothing kind of thing to me. I know I can't stop reading once I start, so I try to stay away from books for as long as I can. -- and instead I ended up with this short story of sorts. I enjoyed writing it so I hope you enjoy reading it at least half as much.


ps: If you want to share your thoughts on the subject, feel free to do it here or on Wattpad (

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