The smell of plaster clung to my nostrils as I sat on the steps in front of the home with new shingles and professionally trimmed hedges — a tender touch of crisp details that were dismissed for over a decade. The “For Sale” sign dangled from a cheap plastic post as the same familiar cars I have grown to recognize whizzed past.
“I need to ask you something,” my mother’s voice seeped through the open windows.
I scooped myself off the cement slab and brushed some dirt off my torn paint-covered jean shorts before stepping inside.
“Do you see this?” She nodded her head upwards towards the flat line where the wall and ceiling meet.
I knew about the fingerprints on the walls — fingerprints bunched in the most random and unexpected place. This was not the first time my mother has discovered a grouping of these mysterious prints — there was another set of markings in the kitchen that she had already painted over.
“What are these?” She continued to probe further.
“I’m not sure,” I replied.
I saw a small girl with torn stockings and pom-pom clips in her hair slide a chair against the wall in front of my mother. She stood on her tiptoes, tapping the wall with three fingers on each hand — counting each tap.
“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.” She held her breath for eight seconds, listened to her heartbeat inside of her chest eight times, and then repeated the process with the opposing hand. If there was a mistake — a miscount, or if she failed to hold her breath the proper amount of time, she would have to begin over and endure the entire ritual a total of eight times as a punishment.
Only I could see this little girl, because that little girl was me. If you asked her what she was doing, she would say the same thing her adult version is admitting at this moment: “I’m not sure.”
But that little girl knew exactly what she was doing: she was changing the course of the universe with her rituals. Her rituals were not a waste of time — they were an insurance policy that she paid for through consistency. If she could tap the wall eight times properly — then her mother would come home from work and more importantly, she would be safe from her father. I feared my mother being raped as she walked to her car in the dark parking lot after an exhausting night of serving tables. I feared my father holding his strong hands around her neck for one second too long. I feared an envelope in the mail — the monthly mortgage that my family could not afford.
I had decided that it was time to retake control of my life — and count eight times while tapping the walls in specific areas on the house. I thought maybe God would hear me knocking eight times. I do not know why eight was the magic number, but eight was an even four groups of two. Four partnerships. Four teams. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.
In my mission to retake control of my life, I became a slave to The Eight. I masturbated feverishly at night, forcing myself to orgasm a total of eight times. It didn’t matter how exhausted I was — or how raw the sensitive skin between my legs was becoming from the friction. I needed to hit eight. If I didn’t, my mother would die.
There were times where I thought The Eight worship was ridiculous — but I justified it as this: would I prefer to serve the holy wall eight times, or watch as my mother’s casket is lowered into the hard ground? I would never forgive myself if I broke the ritual — killing my mother in the process. It was simply safer to bow my head and continue serving the eight.
I counted my steps in my mind at school. I made sure to never step on the cracks in the tiles. In the classroom, I could hardly focus as I tried to write each word in eight seconds—leaving teachers to accuse me of being lazy on assignments or being short-minded. My fourth grade teacher called my mom one afternoon and told her she thought I was intellectually disadvantaged compared to the other children.
But in reality, I was a quick learner — and a talented kid. But none of that mattered when you served The Eight. And because I was so aware of how absurd my servitude was, I made sure to never be caught.
When I served The Eight and was still punished by my drunken father — I never doubted the number. Instead, I believed that I had made a mistake during the ritual that I failed to notice. I blamed myself instead.
And now, years later, my mother is noticing the fingerprints against the wall — remnants of my service to The Eight.
When I become intimate with a new significant other, I begin to slip secrets about my childhood — not because I want them to feel sorry for me, or construct excuses for my behavior (everyone becomes a psychologist when their girlfriend is upset), but because it is fundamentally the glue that holds the cells in my body together. If water makes up over 85% of the human body chemically, then memories are the invisible force responsible for the four limbs, two eyes, one mouth, and one mind summation.
Sometimes I count the tiles in the grocery store: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. I kissed the back of my ex girlfriend’s neck eight times when we were cuddling in bed together. She thought I was being the dorky playful person that I always am and I was giving one last tribute to The Eight — I loved her so much that I thought in my mind: maybe she has been given to me by The Eight — not a serious consideration, just a teasing thought that I sometimes have about myself.
I’m the same little girl that stood on chairs and tapped walls — just older, with a more appropriate sexual desire. I don’t masturbate eight times, and when I have sex with a lover, I’m content getting off just one time — sometimes less than that if I’ve had a long day and “Honey why do you always want to have sex at the most horrible time?” becomes my new mantra.
My brief dance with OCD was one that is filled with dark humor and devastating pity. In middle school, I told the Tourette Girl who played clarinet (terribly) that I didn’t like to make fun of her for flapping her hands in the middle of practice — resulting in the thud of her dropped clarinet against the hollow wooden stage. I told her that I understood her. She assumed I was bullying her and told me to “fuck off” before going through another tick.
My mother painted over the fingerprints and the house was sold. I stand strong at 22-years-old no longer serving The Eight, although I often think about my long period of time where I did. I’m not sure what severed my faithfulness to The Eight — I think one exhausting morning I realized I couldn’t continue living my life masturbating all night. I attribute my service to The Eight as simply one of those really fucked up and bizarre things you do as a kid — some kids ate boogers, some ate worms, some were exhibitionists that loved having their bare wieners flap in the wind on the playground, and some served The Eight.