Apparently, I have an obsession with towels. And honest to god, I have no idea why. Sure, I know that I am not alone in appreciating the feel of clean, soft, effective terry cloth, even recognizing its physical beauty, but this goes beyond that.
In our master bathroom in Condoville, the toilet is in its own separate closet, with its own door, own toilet, own fan, and its own light. It’s a perfect little world for conducting your business without the vulnerability of potential interruption or the burden of performance anxiety. I decided it needed to be pretty beyond its functionality, so I ordered and installed some rustic shelving to fill some of the excessive space, and then I moved our volume of bath towels from the clothes closet to adorn them.
I did a lot of calculus to figure out which towel goes where – how many could be stacked, how many side-to-side, which ones matched, and – ultimately – which setup gave the greatest sense of calm.
Wednesday, I decided it was time to do the wash, including our “active” towels. Laundry is kind of my thing, and I pride myself on finding the perfect timing for towel washing, which to me is sometime between OCD and a noticeable odor. Of course, I relish being able to share this gift with Jim. And if he ever puts his towel in the laundry, I truly feel a sense of failure.
So, Wednesday was the day. Having snagged the buggers and set them on their wash-cycle way before heading off to work, I reveled in self-satisfaction on my drive home about my plan for the perfectly timed move to the dryer immediately upon my arrival home (because, of course, there’s also a fine line between clean and mildewed if you let them sit in the machine for too long). Done. More than once that evening, I thought about those bright, white sheets of clean fluffiness and the need to find them back to their rightful homes on our assigned hooks.
Alas, wine and laziness got in the way, and I let them sit there overnight. Not too much of a biggie, because I am always up before Jim and could take care of it before his morning routine. That said, I didn’t sleep perfectly, no doubt fueled at least a little by the disorder. And then – gasp! – the next morning, while I was out on the lanai enjoying the sunrise, Jim appeared, showered and dressed, ready to go to work. Ohhhh nooooo. I gritted my teeth, exchanged morning niceties, kissed him farewell, and listened for the purr of his motorcycle as he made his way out of Dodge.
This is where the obsessive part comes in (in case you had any notion that what I’ve described so far is what I consider obsessive). What towel had he used?? I prayed that he had grabbed the ones in the dryer, but if not, I hoped beyond hope that he had used the single one in the little spa rack thing on the ground. Surely he wouldn’t have taken one (of the 14, btw) off the newly minted shelves. I couldn’t bear that and all of the chaos it would bring.
I entered the bathroom with trepidation and confirmed my worst fears: my still life of shelving-towel bliss was short one. As a reflex, I quickly sprang into action, as if speed could erase the devastation of it all. I grabbed the clean ones from the dryer, folded them in a way that would have made Benetton happy, and reset the perfect stage. Ahhh, peace in the land.
Seriously…wtf?? I am not exaggerating when I say that this whole towel situation consumed by brain space for a frighteningly disproportionate amount of time over that 24 hour period. And I mean consumed.
I decided to take the bull by the horns and get to the bottom of this obsessive behavior – one that was fraught with opportunities for self-loathing and, worse yet, disappointment in Jim. Why did I care one fleck about which towel he used? Did I really associate order with the neatness and symmetry of my shelving? If yes, why did I put on them things that have a real purpose? It’s not that I don’t have time to wash and fold however many get used. And I even like the idea of washing what is surely accumulated dust on the display ones. Why, then, does it feel like it matters so freaking much?
The next morning I did what any determined addict does; I went public with my affliction. I shared with Jim my thought process and behavior about the towels in painful detail, honestly recounting every obsessive step over the previous day. I reflected on my instinct to control his behavior to appease my angst, and I worked hard not to play down the magnitude of the emotion I felt through it all. And when my letting was over, I was awash in shame. And, as silly as it sounds, I felt completely vulnerable.
A lesser human being would have seized the opportunity to highlight the ridiculousness of it all. In the very least, they would have pointed out how illogical my brain function was. What did Jim do? He met me in my place. Did I have any experience being punished for messing with towels? No. Was I reprimanded for being messy? Not really. It’s funny, he said, he thought about which towel to use and decided the ones on the shelves would probably want some activity since they just sit there all the time. How sweet is that? I totally get that. Kind of like picking the malformed tomato at the market because you just know its been passed over time and again for something more “perfect.”
As I teetered on what I assumed was the edge of appropriate air time for this topic, Jim took it a step further. He told me about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (which I’ve never read) and Douglas Adams‘ quote about the towel’s being “the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have.” He told me that even South Park pays homage to the terryful treasures. Who knew??
What I do know is that I took what I felt was a major risk by exposing my weakness. I also know that in doing so, I put my vulnerable self in the hands of another person. The whole obsessive situation could have going seriously south, sending me to a new level of self-protection, thus strengthening any rationale I might have had for the what is clearly an imbalanced focus on towels. On the contrary, the possibilities of understanding were expanded. I still have answers to pursue about what prompts my whacky feelings, but I can do so with a decreasing amount of fear that I simply am unstable. When I feel unstable, I fight like crazy to prove – to others and to myself – that it isn’t so. And that fighting position, I am certain, is not in any way helpful to personal or relationship growth.
Jim is my empathy role model. If he can really listen to my obsessive drivel about towels and really try to make sense of it, then certainly I have the capacity to experience the same curiosity about the behavioral mysteries of those around me. Rather than be annoyed, impatient, or – worse yet – oblivious, I have to remember, as they say, that everyone is battling their own version of the towel demon. I call it “Terry Torture,” and I’m going to do my part in taming that beast.
Who’s with me??!
“As cruel as life might be at times, if you throw in the towel, which is what everyone will expect, then nothing good will happen and your life will fall apart. Be better than that!”
― Bill Courtney, Against the Grain: A Coach’s Wisdom on Character, Faith, Family, and Love