Gregory Sherl’s OCD got so bad, he had to quit his job as a teacher.
Editor’s Note (11/18/2014) In light of recent allegations brought to the attention of The Good Men Project concerning Gregory Sherl, the editorial staff has re-examined our published content by him and opted to remove selected posts referring to individuals with whom he may have had a relationship to protect the privacy of those individuals. All content published on The Good Men Project by Mr. Sherl appeared before allegations against him were made public in 2014, and our editorial policy is only to remove content that we find to be problematic in and of itself; we do not remove content solely in relation to the credibility or reputation of the author. Publishing content by an author on The Good Men Project in no way constitutes or reflects an endorsement of the author.
On July 25, 2010, I wrote Ed Falco, the director of the MFA program at Virginia Tech, an email. It began: There is something wrong in my head … My OCD has gotten so bad I don’t think I could handle touching my students’ papers without using a bottle of sanitizer.
I wanted to write: I understand my heart looks like everyone else’s heart.
I had felt hushed for months.
I pressed the send button and fell asleep on the couch.
Ed Falco is a kind man; he understood. He wished me the best with my writing and my health.
Three months later. A pressed and starched J.Crew oxford my mother ironed some hours ago hangs limp across my shoulders. I am idling in the staff parking lot of Broward College, wondering which bathroom I will use today. The third-floor bathroom has a better stream from the faucet, as well as drainage, but the towel dispenser often gets stuck, which means I might have to wash my hands two or three times before I will be able to properly dry them. I decide I will use the second-floor bathroom, and I will try to wash my hands quickly, so the sink won’t overflow.
In desperation I left teaching, and in desperation I went back to teaching. There’s a joke in everything. Maybe being broke does that to you.
I’m teaching three sections of remedial English at Broward College. I am lucky, though: my students would rather bump fists than shake hands.
I am an average man doing an average job with these students, and that’s enough for now.
I rub my thumb against my index finger.
My students wonder about my beat-up hands. I can’t keep them in my pockets when I’m drawing a house on the chalkboard. I am teaching prepositional phrases.
I draw a two-story house with a giant door, two windows on each side of the door. This is my house, I tell them. On the roof I put a chimney, which is silly because I live in Florida. I am at the top of the chalkboard now, so the smoke leaving the chimney goes right, instead of up.
Anything you can do involving the house, I tell them, that’s a preposition. Next to the house I draw a tree that looks hollow. Beside the house, I say. Beside is the preposition; house is the object of the preposition. I point my chalk at my students. I wait. In the house, a young girl says. I draw my face looking out a window. Under the house, someone in the back says. I draw a coffin below the house. The class laughs; I sigh. This is easy, I think.
I take the economy-sized Purell out of my bag. The sting is there, so you know it’s working.
At home I have a stack of clean washcloths in the linen closet. They are all dark and thick, like little bathmats. I keep a fresh one next to the sink. Bathrooms scare the shit out of me. When I wash my hands, I have to turn the faucet off with a washcloth. The dirty side always stays down. The clean side lasts for a day, and then I switch it out with the next washcloth in the stack.
My bathroom reads are books I find in the bargain bin of Barnes & Noble. I throw them out when I finish them. They feel contaminated.
When I think about signing up for an online dating site, I worry about all of the germs on my keyboard.
I think about bleaching my sandals.
At night the shower runs long. I whittle my bar of Dove soap down to a crescent moon. I leave the conditioner in my hair for the full two minutes. I get out of the shower and wash my hands before brushing my teeth.
In bed I am relieved my hands have nowhere else to go.
On the phone I tell a pretty girl that I think love is not wondering where her hands have been. Even when she’s scooping the mashed potatoes. Even if they trace the stripes on my pillowcase.
Two hours later we hang up, and for five or six minutes, I feel disastrously calm.