I Found My Obsession
The door to Andy's 12th-floor condo had an elaborate lock system and opened to a blend of mirrored walls, wicker furniture and tribal masks. The panoramic view of Miami Beach should have evoked frolic and leisure, but so much else suggested a stranger side.
What first caught my eye were the stacks of newspapers and old magazines towering higher than the clothes dryer. All the shelves in the living room sagged from the weight of books packed in double and triple rows. On the dining-room table sat rubber-banded piles of opened and unopened mail. In the tiny kitchen, state-of-the-art appliances shared the counter with sets of butcher knives and an assortment of clocks and timers.
"You must like to cook," I said.
"No," Andy said. "I just took a class once."
Our path to his bar was blocked by a collection of objects, most prominently two golf bags stuffed with clubs.
"You didn't tell me you were a golfer, too."
"Oh, those," he said dismissively. "I've tried, but the game really isn't for me."
Thank God he isn't a golfer, I thought. On an earlier date Andy had said he was a tennis player, and I was excited at the prospect of sharing this activity. Still, why would he keep clubs he had no use for in an already cramped apartment?
But what would've been clutter in another place, Andy managed to endow with structure and purpose. He came across as organized and resourceful, and I chose to see his eccentricities as endearing. For a man of 59 he had a boyish fascination with life. He also had a terrific sense of humor and a stunning full head of gray hair. I was in love.
For the next seven years we shared our lives. Midway through, Andy was diagnosed with OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder. His symptoms included not only the typical hoarding and sorting, but ritualistic movements that rendered time not his own. Whenever we pulled into his parking space, for example, before we could take the elevator he had to check the car trunk--in which he kept batteries, flashlights, raingear, phone books and other items--to make sure all was in order. When we traveled, even to five-star resorts, he packed his own showerhead and any tools that might be necessary to perform the exchange. He absolutely had to do this the minute we checked in.
I learned to laugh at the absurdities in his behavior, to take comfort in the way he made me feel safe and cared for. But his OCD could be a monster. His bill-paying routine might consume two or three weekends a month. He would alphabetize charge slips by businesses, clipping and stapling to no end, his huge hauls from Costco and Wal-Mart warranting special treatment with different color highlights. Mind you, Andy was a successful real-estate developer who no longer kept regular office hours. All this effort was simply for personal purchases.
One day Andy announced he was buying me a set of custom-made golf clubs. He signed us up for lessons, and I feigned enthusiasm because it was nice just spending time together outside. The euphoria lasted three months before the painful ways returned. Andy became stuck in more side projects, like rearranging the refrigerator, as I would watch his feverishness with increasing fear and resentment.
Finally, during a particularly difficult day, I announced I was going to the golf course by myself. I returned to find Andy still hunched over his bills. His OCD-induced desire for minutiae meant I had to re-enact each shot of my round in detail. His rapt attention didn't break until I finished with the last putt of my generous 120. That's when I knew that golf would become my regular escape. I was actually starting to like the game.
Though golf would save my life with Andy, it didn't save his. In our seventh year together he was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor and died six months later. Along with collections of things like padlocks and leather-bound city guides swiped from hotels, he left behind five sets of clubs.
It has been 10 years since Andy's death, and I still haven't had to buy a toothbrush or baking foil. Using these items makes me laugh and still feel cared for. They're part of what made Andy lovable, OCD and all.
Oh, my new husband is a golfer, too.