Photo: Sean McGrath
I am a diagnosed Obsessive-Compulsive and my husband Shawn has Attention Deficit Disorder. As such, our vacation preparations unfold differently: I read hotel reviews, pore over maps, and note our proximity to major hospitals while he steps onto the airplane without a clue where it will land. I prepare for diarrhea, malaria, guerrilla warfare, and hangnails; Shawn forgets to bring pants.
We are going to Costa Rica for our anniversary, leaving the children with their grandparents. My travel anxiety engages as we drive to the airport. The interstate is a brilliant red pinball machine, and I am the silver sphere trapped in its walls. The underground tram to the terminal is a tunnel that could collapse at any moment and bury me alive. If I lose my footing on the escalator, it will scalp me, and behind the counter at Au Bon Pain lurks a botulism-tainted scone. I scan for terrorists, zeroing in on anyone who looks more nervous than I do, including an elderly man with a cane — the aged and infirm are highly under-scrutinized.
At security, my shoes, belt, coins, and keys go into the tray, but Shawn seems to be clothed in chain mail and steel-toed lace-up boots. TSA relieves him of the large can of spray deodorant he always packs in his carry-on bag — one never knows when he might work himself into a stink, he says — and he stands in the thick of the exiting throngs as he re-threads his belt through his pants, loop by loop. I find myself flummoxed and begin to back away, only to hear his sorrowful voice call, “Honey! Wait a minute! I’m trying to get my belt on! Why aren’t you waiting for me?” The last time this happened our little boys tugged at my hands and said, “Mommy, Daddy looks like he needs some help.”
Surprisingly comfortable in the middle seat, he presses his knees into the back of the chair in front of him, settles in, and lets one fly. He farts on every plane ride, and claims that everybody else does too. Trapped in the window seat, I poke him in the arm. “You can’t fart on the plane when I’m sitting next to you. People are going to think I did it.”
Within minutes, he falls asleep on his hand, exhausted from his over-stimulating romp through the terminal, while I stare out the window, rip at my cuticles as the plane takes off, and listen for a sign that I’m about to die. When the plane successfully reaches cruising altitude I turn my focus to my calves and wait for a thrombosis.
It’s exhausting to be paranoid.
Shawn smiles in his sleep. When we travel, he always smiles, and he carries all of my heavy bags, and the kids too if they are with us. Often he remains oblivious to our itinerary. When I ask if he’s read the travel guide, Shawn asks, “Which hemisphere are we going to again?” Yet he follows me with mirth and makes true friends of cab drivers and beach combers, rainforest guides and bartenders, remembering their names for years. He wakes up in the morning whenever I ask him to, and he socks away extra money to buy me a gift. He maintains the attitude that we’ll be just fine, and he puts his faith in me to make it happen.
The plane rattles. I take half of a Xanax and listen to a chant by the Gyoto monks of Tibet on repeat to quell the image of the pulmonary embolism I know is creeping up my leg — still a death I’d prefer to a plunge from 31,000 feet. After twenty minutes, the drug enters my bloodstream with the force of an engulfing wave. I feel my chances of survival improving. The cabin no longer smells like a discarded sock, and I wonder: Is this what it feels like to be Shawn? To look down on 30,000 feet of atmosphere and believe that it will carry me to my destination? To venture far from home without concern for gate changes or snake bites or flesh wounds?
This pill has turned me into my husband; I’ve shed my obsessive skin. I’m reinvented. I don’t care, and it’s miraculous. I imagine he follows the spark of intrigue down whatever path tempts him, sees the world for what it is, not its rare and gruesome possibilities. People are fascinating when they’re not frightening, and we are going to a country we’ve never seen, where I can dive deeply, eat heartily, and rush the trails. With my brain bound and gagged, I am free to be Shawn, and I realize suddenly the weight of my dysfunction and long to exchange it for his.
But my dysfunction has its uses. When the ADD ambles off in aimless directions, OCD reigns him in. Obsession has brought us to this time and place; it made the reservations and did the packing. My methodical planning and my exhaustive efforts to micro-manage detail mean that the splinter in Shawn’s toe three days from now will be easily removed, and the stomach aches we’ll get from the strange Costa Rican potatoes will melt away with a single antacid. I’ll be thankful for my OCD. In turn, Shawn will tell me to spend an extra few minutes watching tree frogs and howler monkeys. We’ll lose track of time and hold up the tour bus, but I’ll be thankful for his ADD too, because he brings adventure to my rigidity.
He tenses in his seat, as though he’s just had a dark thought. “Crap,” he says, sitting up. “I have no idea where I put my passport.”
“I took it from you two hours ago,” I tell him. “It’s in the bag.”
He puts his hand on my leg. “Thank God. I’m such a disaster. What would happen to me if you weren’t in charge?”
“You’d be standing in the airport parking lot, in your underwear, watching the plane take off without you.”
He smirks. “Yeah. I would.” After a pause, he squeezes my arm and adds, “And you’d be on that plane by yourself, hyper-ventilating about MRSA on the armrest.”
“Yeah,” I say, and nudge him back. “I know.”