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Turtles All the Way Down(11)
Author: John Green

I have these thoughts that Dr. Karen Singh calls “intrusives,” but the first time she said it, I heard “invasives,” which I like better, because, like invasive weeds, these thoughts seem to arrive at my biosphere from some faraway land, and then they spread out of control.

Supposedly everyone has them—you look out from over a bridge or whatever and it occurs to you out of nowhere that you could just jump. And then if you’re most people, you think, Well, that was a weird thought, and move on with your life. But for some people, the invasive can kind of take over, crowding out all the other thoughts until it’s the only one you’re able to have, the thought you’re perpetually either thinking or distracting yourself from.

You’re watching TV with your mom—this show about time-traveling crime solvers—and you remember a boy holding your hand, looking at your finger, and then a thought occurs to you: You should unwrap that Band-Aid and check to see if there is an infection.

You don’t actually want to do this; it’s just an invasive. Everyone has them. But you can’t shut yours up. Since you’ve had a reasonable amount of cognitive behavioral therapy, you tell yourself, I am not my thoughts, even though deep down you’re not sure what exactly that makes you. Then you tell yourself to click a little x in the top corner of the thought to make it go away. And maybe it does for a moment; you’re back in your house, on the couch, next to your mom, and then your brain says, Well, but wait. What if your finger is infected? Why not just check? The cafeteria wasn’t exactly the most sanitary place to reopen that wound. And then you were in the river.

Now you’re nervous, because you’ve previously attended this exact rodeo on thousands of occasions, and also because you want to choose the thoughts that are called yours. The river was filthy, after all. Had you gotten some river water on your hand? It wouldn’t take much. Time to unwrap the Band-Aid. You tell yourself that you were careful not to touch the water, but your self replies, But what if you touched something that touched the water, and then you tell yourself that this wound is almost certainly not infected, but the distance you’ve created with the almost gets filled by the thought, You need to check for infection; just check it so we can calm down, and then fine, okay, you excuse yourself to the bathroom and slip off the Band-Aid to discover that there isn’t blood, but there might be a bit of moisture on the bandage pad. You hold the Band-Aid up to the yellow light in the bathroom, and yes, that definitely looks like moisture.

Could be sweat, of course, but also might be water from the river, or worse still seropurulent drainage, a sure sign of infection, so you find the hand sanitizer in the medicine cabinet and squeeze some onto your fingertip, which burns like hell, and then you wash your hands thoroughly, singing your ABCs while you do to make sure you’ve scrubbed for the full twenty seconds recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, and then you carefully dry your hands with a towel. And then you dig your thumbnail all the way into the crack in the callus until it starts bleeding, and you squeeze the blood out for as long as it comes, and then you blot the wound dry with a tissue. You take a Band-Aid from inside your jeans pocket, where there is never a shortage of them, and you carefully reapply the bandage. You return to the couch to watch TV, and for a few or many minutes, you feel the shivering jolt of the tension easing, the relief of giving in to the lesser angels of your nature.

And then two or five or six hundred minutes pass before you start to wonder, Wait, did I get all the pus out? Was there pus even or was that only sweat? If it was pus, you might need to drain the wound again.

The spiral tightens, like that, forever.

SIX

AFTER SCHOOL THE NEXT DAY, I joined the swarm of people filing out through the overstuffed hallways of WRHS and made my way to Harold. I had to change the Band-Aid, which took a few minutes, but I preferred to let the traffic thin out a bit before driving home anyway. To kill time, I texted Daisy, asking her to meet me at Applebee’s, our go-to restaurant for studying together.

She responded a few minutes later: I have work until 8. Meet you after?

Me: Do you need a ride?

Her: Dad picked me up. He’s taking me. Has Davis texted?

Me: No, should I text him?

Her: ABSOLUTELY NOT.

Her: Wait between 24 and 30 hours. Obviously. You’re intrigued but not obsessed.

Me: Got it. I didn’t know there were Texting Commandments.

Her: Well there are. We’re almost there so I gotta go. First order of business, drawing straws to see who has to get in the Chuckie costume. Pray for me.

Harold and I started our drive home, but then it occurred to me that I could go anywhere. Not anywhere, I guess, but nearly. I could drive to Ohio, if I wanted, or Kentucky, and still be home before curfew. Thanks to Harold, a couple hundred square miles of the American Midwest were mine for the taking. So instead of turning to go home, I kept driving north up Meridian Street until I merged onto I-465. I turned the radio up as a song I liked called “Can’t Stop Thinking About You” came on, the bass sizzling in Harold’s long-blown speakers, the lyrics stupid and silly and everything I needed.

Sometimes you happen across a brilliant run of radio songs, where each time one station goes to commercial, you scan to another that has just started to play a song you love but had almost forgotten about, a song you never would’ve picked but that turns out to be perfect for shouting along to. And so I drove along to one of those miraculous playlists, headed nowhere. I followed the highway east, and then south, then west, then north, and then east again, until I ended up at the same Meridian Street exit where I’d started.

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