I clean behind the radiator in the bathroom with the grapefruit scented cleaner. The liquid is pink and I watch as it turns grey when it mixes with the dust and the dirt collecting on the linoleum tile. I spray behind the toilet and clean the baseboards and under the bathtub. I pile up the paper towels I have turned into waste once I wipe and scrub all the surfaces of the bathroom. A towel is better because it is something I can clean in the washing machine, but then the germs from the bathroom will be on my clothes or other towels when I put them in the washer. The towels that I wrap my clean body in after a shower. Yes, the detergent will clean everything, but I don’t trust that the bathroom germs won’t transfer onto my underwear and then infect my body. So I use paper towels and feel guilty that I am destroying precious trees to have a clean apartment. I switch from the pink cleaner to bleach for the shower. The “floral” scented bleach burns my lungs when I spray it onto the bathtub and shower tiles but I know the pain will be worth it to have a clean shower, a shower that won’t be coated in germs that will make me dirty. I wish the moment when I am most clean, right when I have finished taking a shower, I wish that moment lasted longer. I cough from the burning sensation from the bleach in my lungs. My body is trying to detox. I sweep the hardwood floors and pick up all of the cat hair from under the furniture. My furniture. In my apartment. They only germs are mine, the dirty dishes are mine and only have my saliva on them, the only dead skin cells on the bathroom sink are mine. I am so disgusted by myself I need another shower but I worry that will make the bathroom dirty again. I mop the floors twice so that I can be sure I didn’t miss any spots and that I killed all of the germs I dragged in from the city streets. I don’t want the germs from the outside to get on my feet and then into my bed. I don’t want the germs in my bed to get into my hair or on my face or into my eyes and mouth when I sleep. I am proud when people notice how clean my apartment is, but they have ruined it by being over. Their shoes and backpacks bring bacteria into my home that will end up on my cat and then onto me. I will have to clean the floors again when they leave. I cook us a meal and as we are eating I think about how hard I will have to work to clean the bacteria from their mouths off of my silverware so I can eat with it later. When I do eat from my silverware again I think about how it was last in my friend’s mouth and I don’t trust that it is really clean. I don’t trust my silverware. I want to get a roommate to satisfy the loneliness of living alone but I fear she won’t be clean enough to live with me. I will have to clean her dishes and I will gag on the dirt in the sink and the smell of old food left over in the dishwasher when the steam vents out if it. I don’t want to lose another friend because my phobias alienate her from me. I want to share groceries and meals and tell someone how my day was when I come home but I fear we are melding more than an address. The fear of another person’s wet towel touching mine in the bathroom we would share keeps me from cohabitation. I want a man in my bed but I worry the germs from his hands will infect my skin when he touches me. He would touch the railings on the CTA trains and busses on the way to my home and I know he wouldn’t wash his hands before touching my face and my body and then the germs from the trains and busses will be on me and make me dirty. The public gym I go to is the scariest place for me. The smell of soap scum in the locker rooms freaks me out and I can’t change into workout clothes at the gym. The other women, the normal women, can change their clothes with no hesitation. They don’t fear that the germs from the tile floors will be trapped into their socks and multiply in their shoes while they run on the treadmill. I do. The normal women can put their sneakers in their duffle bags next to their underwear and clean workout clothes and have it all touch. I can not. I have to wrap my sneakers in plastic bags to keep all of the germs off my clothes and off my skin. I workout next to the hot personal trainer I see a lot at the gym and as he sweats more he smells better and better. I can smell his sweat and his pheromones and he smells like sex. He smells like a man, he smells like dick. I notice his thighs showing from underneath his shorts and notice that they are the same pair of black shorts he wears every time I see him. I think about if it’s the same exact pair he wears everyday, or if he owns multiple pairs. I think about how often he washes those shorts and if he stays in the same sweaty pair of underwear all day and if he smells so good because he is dirty, and then I think about how he would infect my mouth with the bacteria trapped in that sweat if I went down on him. I want to know more about him, I want him to hold me so I can put my head on his chest and smell his good smell, but I fear what is living on his skin and inside his mouth.
I don’t want to be this way. I want to let a friend try a sip of my drink without hesitation. I want to borrow a friend’s chapstick and not have to clean it off first. I would love to be able to skip a shower some days. I wash my armpits with two different types of soap to kill any bacteria that would make me smell bad. I hate sweaty dirty armpits and I worry people won’t like me if I smell and men won’t find me attractive. I recognize that these thoughts are not logical. I recognize that “feeling” dirty is not a real sensation. But I can’t shake these feelings. I can’t stray from routine, I can’t go to bed on time if there are dirty dishes in the sink. I would love to have a weekend where I don’t have to spend 3 hours cleaning my apartment. My hands crack from being washed so much. My cat compulsively cleans himself, and has a bald patch on his tummy from excessive grooming. While I love that Charlie cat and I have this in common, I want to share a home with a partner. I want to invite a man’s mess into my life and share my germs with him and let his dirt cover my house and my body, but I know that I’d rather sink deeper into loneliness as a sacrifice for a freshly bleached bathroom sink.
About the author...
Emily Nikfar is an actor, storyteller, and writer. Emily has been exploring the world of Solo Performance in the past two years and has learned how to use art as a form of therapy. She has been working on gettin over her fear of germs and would love to invite you all over for a cup of tea—you can even leave your shoes on!