You down with OCD? Yeah you know me.

My Aunt Lulu tells the story of how as a child – she babysat me – I would line up her spice bottles as though they were in formation for war.  I played quietly and then I would put them back into the spice cabinet.  She tells this at family gatherings every time, and I haven’t the heart to tell her it was the first sign of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.  She found it endearing that I had a penchant for war and played well alone, and I found it relieving that her spice cabinet was neat and orderly.

In high school, my room was always immaculately clean and upon the first foot on the floor in the morning, bed made with militant-tucked corners.  I never wore clothes more than once before it was separated, colors or whites, into the hamper.  I would get nervous at the sight of a few dishes in mom’s sink, and as the dishes crept to plentiful the seething would begin.  That was the trigger to which all the guns in the world were  pulled…dishes in a sink turned to uneven pep-rally banners on the halls.  How could a cheerleader, perfectly poised and coiffed, be such a symmetrical slob?  The devil is in the details, which sometimes makes it impossible to not feel superior.

College was the first time I felt…neurotic.  There weren’t people around that I had grown up with and due to lack of a large population, had to like me.  People from all walks of life, backgrounds as diverse as the next, out of step with mine.  If you have a therapist confirm that you’re a number in their manual then you can get the university to let you room alone, so there I was in Wentz Hall at Oklahoma State University alone with an abnormally long twin-sized bed.  When left to your own devices, as a perfectly capable OCD person, you begin to create some intriguing patterns.  It didn’t take long, holed up in that dorm, until I was trying to convince my mom that I needed…no NEEDED a futon.

“Why do you need a futon when you have a perfectly good bed?”  She would ask.

“Mom, the bed is too long is makes me feel like I’m a short loser because I’m not here on a basketball scholarship.”

“Well that’s just ridiculous, Lisa.  You’re crazy.”

“Well duh, mom, that’s why I need a futon to sleep on.”

Once the futon arrived, I never slept on that bed again.  Truth be told, I had come down with a fear of wrinkles.  I needed a place for people to sit when they visited – the couple of dorky musicians that were teaching me guitar, which I never learned anyway – because I couldn’t relax while they sat on the bed, moving their bodies and creating giant wrinkles.  Eventually, I couldn’t stop thinking about wrinkles and under no circumstance could someone sit on my bed.  None.  I was spending too much time straightened wrinkles of the abnormally long twin bed and less time studying, so once I eliminated guests and sleeping on it altogether the wrinkle obsession failed to exist.

Fast forward to New York City.  I know what you’re thinking, how can someone like you – a small-town girl – live like that.  To the normal folk like you (let’s face it the only people to read this blog are my hometown peeps) it would make you shudder at the waves of people crashing into you, but to the crazies like me…it’s like redemption.  You see, there’s a process you go through in New York that most Californians call soulless, but we call it desensitized. For someone like me, this ‘desensitization’ was very much-needed.  I was, now, normal.  I could walk among a crowd – worry free of wrinkles, symmetry, and others I won’t detail here – and just feel secure via eavesdropping…these people are nucking futs.  Here I was thinking I was bat shit crazy because a wrinkle set me off into a flustered-state of organizing, but these people have real problems like peeing in streets or fighting each other over parking spaces.  For all intent and purposes, New York City swallowed me up like a fine wine.

Ten years later – married, living in Jersey, moving up the corporate ladder by day, writing novels by night, and getting an MBA in between, my fear of wrinkles downgraded to more of a pet peeve (as we – yuppies – call it to sound normal).  My mom contributes to my superiority complex of details by supporting that ‘making the bed is just plain good housekeeping,’ and New York City street-strolling has become more of an exorcism of my apparently new agoraphobia.  The good news is I’m no longer soulless.

When 31 isn’t cool…

Being a big sister has been rewarding in many ways, but mostly I was different than all the other sisters in the world; I was cool.   In college my brother proclaimed, “I’m going to live wherever you live when I get older, sissy.”  His loyalty ballooned my heart and helped me catch my breath in various stages of my life.  There was always this little guy that thought I was the coolest person in the world.  When my bruised ego pushed my shoulders to the ground, there he was–I was cool.  When I felt I couldn’t love anymore, there he was–someone I truly loved. 

While I did the college thing at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, OK, my little brother tagged along a couple weekends as I visited the local hangouts.  When I lived in Dallas, Texas during my Turn On, Tune In, and Drop Out phase, he was sent to stay with me and get me out of the Tie Dye.  After fame and fortune left me like a one-night stand, he came out to New York City to let me know that I was a star in his world.  There hasn’t been a place I’ve lived that my brother Blake hasn’t visited. 

This visit was different and as my place in life had solidified over the past few years,  his was changing in every way every single day–adolescence.  In fact, for the first time in his life I wasn’t cool.  I suppose I thought I would always be the cool big sister and never that old fart that referred to his uber bass levels as too loud or the uncool old hag that couldn’t point out cool truck rims from regular ones.  Even working at MTV wasn’t cutting it in his world since ‘MTV hadn’t been cool in over a decade’  and Maplewood, NJ was a suburbia he didn’t think he could live.  For the first time in my life I had moved from an era of cool into 31 is not cool.

As he walked out the door this morning from my New Jersey Colonial  to head back to Oklahoma after a visit to my first laying of roots, I knew our dynamic had shifted.  No longer would life send my little brother to check on me and lift me up, but rather I would be sent into his to return the favor. 

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January 29th (A 9-year affair)

Since 2001, the date January 29th has held a significant meaning in my life; it was the date that my brother disappeared.  My family and I suspect it was the date of his actual wrongful death.  I’ll never forget that Superbowl weekend for as long as I live.  An Oklahoma State University plane carrying basketball players and some media personnel went down that Friday killing ten in total.  In Superbowl XXXV The Ravens beat the NY Giants,  34-7.  While watching a rerun of Law & Order, life flung the words “Jeffrey is missing” into the zeitgest of that 2001 weekend.

The commemorative weekend comes every year in the pecking order of “Jeffrey is missing,” Superbowl, and the OSU crash.  It reminds me of one of the birthday cards you get that has all the meaningful events of your birth year listed out in a souvenir manner. 

The first year (2001) I spent in a dreamlike state watching planes, people, cadaver dogs, police officers, horses, and my family searching frantically yelling “Jeffrey” over every inch of a mountain.  The second year (2002), we brought flowers to the site where the truck my brother was driving was planted found.  The third year (2003), we released balloons for him.  The fourth year (2004), we continued our ritual.  A few months after the last year we did that (2006) his skull and less than a handful of bones were retrieved from a remote place (approx. a mile from my uncle’s house) in the mountain.  In our minds, Jeffrey was graduating from missing to dead, while he should have been graduating from college.  In 2007, January 29th officially became the anniversary of his death.

While his presence never leaves, the cyclic mourning of a missing person has subsided and found closure in his death.  Unfortunately, many families do not have the morbid blessing of knowing whether or not their loved one is dead and continue to live in the abysmal cycle of grief and hope, which can be a crippling mixture at times. 

Many families of the missing begin extraordinary journeys in life because of our loved one’s indelible spirit and inexplicit parting from our world.  You can find some of these to the left of this blog posting, and in January 29th, 2010, I will be embarking on mine. 

Jeffrey Ben

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