Illustration by Popularium. Source images NBCUniversal
This is the day I have to spine up and break up with you. Part of it is getting older, part of it is getting bored. A lot of it is getting the feeling that I’m being made fun of.
Take a step back. No, further. Further. We need to get a sense of the whole case, start to finish.
I’ll admit that you were there first. It’s 2003, and USA has a quirky procedural show for every day of the week. You are the sound in the living room when my mother comes home from a 70-hour work week spent smiling and comforting the dying, offering a world that makes sense in a way the real one doesn’t. The case has an answer (except when it doesn’t). There’s always justice (except when there isn’t).
Me? I can’t even be bothered to get off the couch. An auspicious start, I know.
But then, you aren’t so glamorous yourself — close-cut hair, simple brown suit with infinite copies (it’s a joke, get it?). Adrian Monk, the defective detective: a genius former police officer left debilitated by the unsolved murder of his wife, only barely able to start solving cases again with the help of his loyal assistant, Sharona. Very Holmes and Watson. They all are.
At first, it is how much you love your family that keeps me around. Not just your wife, even though her ghost hangs heavy over everything in the early days. But also the family who helped pick you up after the fact. I love that. I sit with my mom and watch long Saturday marathons.
Then you start meaning something different.
See, I’ve always been a nervous kid. When I was 5 I would sit motionless on the bed with my comforter wrapped around me, while I tried to wrap my head around the concept of what I would do forever once I was dead. I was so afraid of not being able to figure it out that I sat completely still, feeling like my muscles were locked up. I couldn’t move until I figured it out, or nothing would be okay. By the time my mom would talk me down, I was sore all over.
Moments like that come and go for years, usually in the dead of night, always in the background of my day-to-day life. And when it gets worse, there you are.
I’m 15. Less than half your age. Who thinks about these things at 15?
I don’t have a wife who’s been blown up by murderers who were never caught. But I still obsess over all the stuff that could kill me. Mostly allergies, to things like penicillin. And codeine. And a plant in the backyard that makes me swell up until I can’t breathe, though we haven’t figured out which one.
So I get your thing — the hand sanitizer especially (hey, how come you never get chemical burns from using it all the time, like I do?). I understand being afraid of life, if in fits and starts instead of constantly. When I am panicking and my Mom calls me Adrian, it feels like a secret code. Calm down, Adrian, it’s going to be alright. I am not alone. It feels like being understood.
But, well… the chemical burns, right? I start to notice little things like that. I mean, I’ve never been the type who needs to clean my room for hours until everything is right, or set things exactly perpendicular. I know there are people like that, just like I know there are depressed people who are tired all the time and ones who cut themselves and ones who may or may not think about ending it. But in pop culture, there is only one kind of OCD, and Adrian Monk is just the latest caricature. Afraid of germs. Needing to touch the light poles a certain number of times, in order, or not be able to sleep.
Were you ever really like me at all? Don’t you ever feel terrified, like your body isn’t your own? Have you ever found yourself driving down the road (of course not, you don’t drive) and out of nowhere your brain says, “I should pull into the oncoming lane?” Have you ever stood in the kitchen holding a knife, and wonder suddenly, “What would it look like if I just walked into the person talking to me, holding this?” Knowing you’ll never do those things, don’t even want to, but the thoughts won’t stop coming? I see you talk to your therapist every week, but you never talk about such impulses.
Doesn’t anyone ever ask if you are afraid of yourself, and not just the world? I don’t remember.
“Defective.” Yeah, maybe. But by whose count?
Why am I still thinking about you? That uncontrollable turmoil was years and years ago. I take pills. I hold my breath when I lock the door and remind myself that yes, I really did lock it. No, my brain didn’t just imagine going through the motions, broken again. My mom comes a few minutes early when we have somewhere to be so I’ll have time to get myself out of the house.
Your story’s been over for years. I’m over you. There’s a million things on TV, after all. I should be able to find a character that fits me better than a punchline. I thought it was you, for a little while. Because I saw you first, because I met you before I knew I needed to see myself in you. And when you weren’t good enough, I tried to look elsewhere. Somewhere that felt like it wasn’t taking pieces of me for a punchline, or staring under a microscope, with only a modicum of humanity. But you wanna know something?
I’ve never met another one who’s even come close.