Caution: Heart Opens Slowly

Blood? Filthy doorknobs? Used towels? … Vermont? Whatever, man. Gregory Sherl is engaged.

Things I have done since my last column: drunk a glass of orange juice three days in a row, moved from South Florida to Vermont for a beautiful woman 14 inches shorter than I am, worn snow boots without any irony, gotten engaged, shoveled a path through the snow to Elizabeth’s Subaru and then flexed through the living room window, run my hands along my first published book, and eaten venison and wild boar in a stew that cost $22.

This is my life these days: dried skin under anything thicker than wool.


I worry about my fiancée and her laundry skills.

This is probably more correct: I worry about my OCD and the way Elizabeth does the laundry.

Last week most of my V-neck T-shirts forgot what size they were.

Elizabeth was like whatever, man, and then she reminded those V-neck T-shirts what size they were supposed to be.

Most of the time I have to touch her all the time.

But sometimes I have to leave the house when she does the laundry, go to the coffee shop, and write a poem about how it forgets to not snow in Vermont.

I still can’t wear boxers if they are washed inside out.

Elizabeth says, Why not?

I tell her, Because then the inside of the boxers touches the outside of my skin.

I swear this makes sense.


Elizabeth won’t let me do the dishes anymore. She says we can’t afford the amount of dish soap I use.

When we get married, I will carry around a boombox with a laugh track recorded on it. I will grow a belly, a widow’s peak, and I will play the laugh track when I have to ask Elizabeth to open the bathroom door because I don’t want to touch the handle.


I can feel parts of my OCD getting better. I have been using the same towel three times before I have to switch it out for a new one. This is a 66.666 percent decrease on my new-towel usage.

Elizabeth and I fuck on her period and it’s copacetic. I’m like whatever, man to the blood on me and the blood on her; I’m like whatever, man to the towel we laid down on the couch.

In the shower Elizabeth washes my back with the pouf, and I think anything but whatever, man.


Today Elizabeth has to pee, badly. This is my fault although she promises me this is normal for her. In the car she tells me a story about playing softball at 15, something about a shoddy immune system, bacteria in the urine.

Still, I feel like an asshole.

Elizabeth and I currently live in Stowe, Vermont, a town known for overpriced skiing, James Taylor benefit concerts, and a coffee shop that closes at dusk. When Elizabeth realizes she most likely has a UTI, she Googles walk-in clinics. None in Stowe. The closest: 45 minutes northwest in Burlington.

Back in the car Elizabeth is grateful to finally be on the highway. There are two things someone from South Florida immediately notices after abruptly moving to Vermont: the roads in Vermont are very bumpy (this is especially detrimental to Elizabeth’s bladder today), and Vermont does not believe in streetlights.


At the walk-in clinic I know my OCD is flaring up because even though I took a Klonopin not an hour ago, I am still too worried about the cleanliness of the chairs in the waiting room to sit on any of them.

I make sure not to lock my knees; I will be standing for a while.


A triage nurse takes Elizabeth into the back of the clinic, and I am left holding myself. Outside it is below freezing but inside it is full of sick people.

It is like choosing to get punched in the face or get punched in the face.

At the clinic, if someone coughs, he has to wear a mask. I think about SARS and China and everyone walking with their heads down.

I watch too much news.

My hands are always in my pockets.

I choose the negative weather.


Outside I walk around the clinic until my thighs feel as if they are being stabbed by ice picks. I take two pictures of the snow with my iPhone, just in case I forget that this actually exists.

When I can’t feel my nose, I stand in the entranceway of the clinic and wait for my face to find its color. I imagine Elizabeth peeing in a cup. I imagine Elizabeth having to pee five minutes after peeing into a cup.

If this column ever won an award, I would thank Elizabeth’s bladder at the ceremony.


Outside I am cold but I keep walking. It is cold as shit. This would be a factual comment if shit were one degree below zero, and smelled like a Bon Iver album.

Across from the clinic is a small cemetery. I look at the small cemetery and feel nothing. I look at the sky and feel nothing. I think about Elizabeth sitting in the clinic and make myself feel nothing.

I hear crows. I don’t hear snow fall because the sky is tired today.

Back in the entranceway of the walk-in clinic I keep reading the same sign over and over: CAUTION DOOR OPENS SLOWLY.

I feel the same way about my heart.

—Photo rongorongo/Flickr


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About Gregory Sherl

Gregory Sherl's first full-length poetry collection, Heavy Petting, was released last October. His newest book, The Oregon Trail is the Oregon Trail, is out this month. He blogs/reviews/interviews here.<


  1. Welcome to New England from a neighbor directly to your south! Congratulations! Good luck! You’ll end up loving Vermont.

  2. This is the best. So hilarious and sad.

  3. Gregory: go ahead and feel the pain. If you numb yourself to it, you numb yourself to your other feelings, too. Also makes it harder to learn from your mistake. We all make mistakes. It’s important to remember that.


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