There are eighty-three flowers on my bedroom wall.
Not real flowers. Painted ones. They’re in the mural my mom did for me when I was twelve. It’s a wild garden scene bursting with bright, vivid colors. It’s the first thing I see when I wake up. The last thing I look at each night.
I like to count them.
It started over three years ago when my family was going through a tough time. One night, unable to sleep and feeling anxious, I turned on the light and started counting. When I was done, I felt better. Calmer.
So I kept doing it. Counting them. It’s soothing. The flowers are always there. I don’t have to worry about them disappearing or withering and fading away. They won’t drift apart from each other, or suddenly go from blue to orange, or shrink or grow without explanation.
They don’t change. Ever.
Plus, I just like to count things. The flowers on my wall. The number of windows and doors and rooms in my house. How many songs play during the drive to school. Anything. Everything. I count, and I make lists. Written to-do lists broken down by month, week and day. Mental lists of silly things like everyone I know whose name starts with the letter M, or how many fruits and vegetables I can think of, or my class schedule each year of middle school.
I know it’s unusual, but the counting, the lists, they’re harmless habits. We all have them. We all have secrets.
This is mine.
I count, and I make lists.
It’s no big deal. Some people hum incessantly. Others bite their nails. Or smoke. I’m hardly the first person to develop a few odd quirks. At least mine aren’t annoying, unsanitary or unhealthy.
They’re unique. Different.
And completely under control.
I wake up five minutes before my alarm, like I do every day.
Rolling onto my side, I turn on the bedside lamp then grab my phone, unplug it and shut off the alarm before putting in my earbuds and selecting a Beyoncé song.
Like I do every day.
I prefer my mornings to proceed in a specific, organized way. And that specific, organized way starts with my listening to Beyoncé.
And no, Destiny’s Child doesn’t count. Neither do movie soundtracks or anything where she’s the featured artist.
It has to be one of her songs from one of her albums. Period.
It’s good luck, starting my day with Queen Bey.
Today’s song is “Drunk in Love” and I turn up the volume before sitting up. Leaning back against the headboard, I stretch my arms overhead, yawn, then focus on the wall opposite me.
And I count the flowers there.
Like I do every morning.
I start at the light blue tulip in the top left corner—like I always do—then scan the wall, left to right, like reading a book. But when I get to the orange coneflower at the bottom right corner, I frown.
I’ve missed one.
Now I have to start again.
There are eighty-three flowers in the mural on my wall, that is a given. I know this, I’ve counted them hundreds…thousands…of times. But I can’t not count them again. Not because I want to.
I have to.
There’s a knot in my chest, and a fluttering, unsettled feeling in my stomach. And neither will go away until I count the flowers and get eighty-three.
The song switches to “Goner” by Twenty-One Pilots and I kick off the covers and crawl to the bottom of my bed, then settle on my knees on the mattress.
And I count the flowers again, slower, more carefully, this time saying each number under my breath.
The knot loosens. The fluttering eases. But I’m not done. I repeat the process, this time in reverse order, starting at the orange coneflower and ending with the light blue tulip, right to left, bottom to top. Up and up, side to side until finally, eighty-three.
Then I start again, this time counting color by color. Blue first (19), then purple (17), red and pink (14 and 14), yellow (11) and orange (8).
Once again, I reverse the order. Orange, yellow, pink and red, purple then blue. The blues aren’t just blue, of course, they’re aquamarine and cobalt, navy and sapphire. The purples are violet, plum and mauve. Reds as bright as fresh blood and as dark and deep as a rose. Pinks both soft and neon. Sunflower yellows and golden oranges or a combination of the two, like the burst of colors in a sunrise. Melding like the warm glow of a sunset.
I keep it as simple as possible, though God knows I could make this even more complicated. But I fight the urge to break the colors down even further, consider it a personal victory that I’m able to do so.
Besides, it’s not so much the counting or grouping that’s important. It’s the familiarity. The repetitiveness. The order to it.
Each time I reach eighty-three I’m able to breathe a bit easier.
But honestly, I hate that number. Eighty-three. Not only does counting and recounting that many flowers take up a good chunk of my time, the number itself makes me uneasy. You can’t divide anything into eighty-three evenly. It drives me crazy.
Something I’m trying like to mad to avoid at all costs.
I could always ask Mom to paint another flower, but then I’d have to explain why I want the flower added. And while my mom gets me better than anyone else, and I hate keeping things from her, I can’t tell her. It’s embarrassing how often I perform this particular habit. How I can’t start my day without it. That I can’t fall asleep at night until it’s done.
If Mom knew that, she might get the wrong idea. She might think it’s a problem. Or worse, that there’s something wrong with me.
So, nope. Not going to ask for another flower. Yes, eighty-four is a much stronger number and can be divided by so many other numbers evenly (2, 3, 4, 6 and 7) but if there were eighty-four flowers, I’d probably think of even more ways to drag out my flower counting. It might go from being a quirky, slightly OCD-ish habit into a full-blown obsession.
It’s a shame, though. A new flower wouldn’t take long to add, and it would make the entire mural better. I even have the perfect spot for it; on the left, about halfway up the wall between a pink rose and purple aster. Of course, the new flower would have to be blue because the number of colors increase by three—except between purple and blue.
And the fact that I’m thinking of this, that I’ve contemplated it, oh…once or twice or one hundred times before…makes me think I’m not doing all that well with the whole avoid going crazy at all costs thing.
Luckily, right now, my flower counting is still just a quirky, slightly unusual habit. One I can manage just fine, thanks all the same.
For the most part, at least.
To prove it, I get to my feet, determined not to start the entire process all over again. Afraid if I do, I’ll be here all day, counting and recounting flowers, until my secret is revealed to the world.
Counting and recounting until I lose my ever-loving mind.
I’m not sure which would be worse.
Either one of them would put a damper on my senior year and I have too many plans, have set too many goals to let anything get in my way now.
I head toward my adjoining bathroom, a woman with places to go, things to do, and worlds to conquer. A woman in control of her thoughts. Her mind.
But not, it seems, in control of her body. Because as I walk past the mural, I can’t help but trail my fingertips along the wall, tracing the edge of a butterfly. And imagine that perfect blue, eighty-fourth flower filling that tiny, empty space.