POET:Neil Hilborn
PIECE: OCD
TOPICS DISCUSSED:
Health and Medicine
SUMMARY:
Neil Hilborn reveals what it is like to be a member of society with OCD, especially when it comes to relationships—and breakups.

Key Lines/Phrases

Key Line/Phrase
Discussion

““How can it be a mistake that I don’t have to wash my hands after I touched her?””

Through the structure and lexicon of his poetry, Hilborn describes the experience of having obsessive-compulsive disorder, and how it affects his behavior and interactions with society around him. He relates his blossoming relationship with a woman. There is a revelation of the objectification and ostracizing society does to sufferers, as it is implied that a terrible burden to him appeared cute or romantic to her. An example: the fact that he checks the locks so many times was only a matter of safety to her, without any stated consideration for what he must be feeling. Eventually, she grows distant and dumps him, shattering him to the point where it consumes him. The joy of love and the pain of loss is framed in the lens of his OCD. By doing so, Hilborn highlights the fact that his condition is an irremovable part of who he is—yet in the end he remains a human person who is a part of society and defined by his emotions and experiences, just like anyone else. (Sachira Arachchi)

Full Transcript of Poem

The first time I saw her…
Everything in my head went quiet.
All the tics,
all the constantly refreshing images just disappeared.
When you have obsessive-compulsive disorder,
you don’t really get quiet moments.
Even in bed, I’m thinking:
Did I lock the doors?
Yes.
Did I wash my hands?
Yes.
Did I lock the doors?
Yes.
Did I wash my hands?
Yes.
But when I saw her,
the only thing I could think about was the hairpin curve of her lips.
Or the eyelash on her cheek—
the eyelash on her cheek—
the eyelash on her cheek.
I knew I had to talk to her.
I asked her out six times in thirty seconds.
She said yes after the third one,
but none of them felt right,
so I had to keep going.
On our first date,
I spent more time organizing my meal by color than I did eating it, or fucking talking to her…
But she loved it.
She loved that I had to kiss her goodbye sixteen times or twenty-four times if it was Wednesday.
She loved that it took me forever to walk home because there are lots of cracks on our sidewalk.
When we moved in together,
she said she felt safe,
like no one would ever rob us because I definitely locked the door eighteen times.
I’d always watch her mouth when she talked—
when she talked—
when she talked—
when she talked—
when she talked;
when she said she loved me,
her mouth would curl up at the edges.
At night, she’d lay in bed and watch me turn all the lights off.
And on, and off,
and on, and off,
and on, and off, 
and on, and off,
and on, and off,
and on, and off,
and on, and off,
and on, and off,
and on, and off,
and on, and off,
and on, and off.
She’d close her eyes and imagine that the days and nights were passing in front of her.
Some mornings I’d start kissing her goodbye
but she’d just leave cause I was just making her late for work…
When I stopped in front of a crack in the sidewalk,
she just kept walking…
When she said she loved me,
her mouth was a straight line.
She told me that I was taking up too much of her time.
Last week she started sleeping at her mother’s place.
She told me that she shouldn’t have let me get so attached to her;
that this whole thing was a mistake,
But…How can it be a mistake
that I don’t have to wash my hands after I touched her?
Love is not a mistake,
and it’s killing me that she can run away from this
and I just can’t.
I can’t –
I can’t go out and find someone new
because I always think of her.
Usually, when I obsess over things,
I see germs sneaking into my skin.
I see myself crushed by an endless succession of cars…
And she was the first beautiful thing I ever got stuck on.
I want to wake up every morning
thinking about the way she holds her steering wheel.
How she turns shower knobs like she’s opening a safe.
How she blows out candles—
blows out candles—
blows out candles—
blows out candles—
blows out candles—
blows out…
Now, I just think about who else is kissing her.
I can’t breathe because he only kisses her once—
he doesn’t care if it’s perfect!
I want her back so bad…
I leave the door unlocked.
I leave the lights on.

Follow-up Resources/Discussions

Resources
Discussion/Follow-up Questions

Follow-up Sociology questions:

  • Those with OCD and other disorders can often be ostracized/objectified by society. Why do you believe this happens?
  • Do you believe society at large has an ethical obligation to support those who are afflicted with conditions such as OCD? Why or why not?
  • What do you think can be done in society as a whole to raise awareness of the obstacles those who have OCD face?

Artist Comments

This space is reserved for any comments the author of the piece may have about the points he was trying to get across and the background of why he wrote the poem.