Since adolescence, I dealt with a constant urge to check the stove before leaving the house. Even if the stove had not been used that day, I still needed to check. My rational mind told me that if I didn’t see the blue flames from the burner, then the stove is officially turned off. However, the irrational thought kept nagging me: maybe I didn’t see it correctly the first time. For more reassurance, I had to place my hand on top of the burner. If my palms burned, then it meant that my hunch was correct. Often I felt slight warmth from earlier usage, but never have I burned myself. I’m a slow learner.
My struggle with the stove began when a hearsay story circulated about a junior high classmate who burned down a part of her house with her curling iron. Although the facts may have altered through the hearsay process, this story frightened me to the core. I wondered about the events leading up to it: maybe the hot iron part was close to something flammable; maybe the curling iron got too hot too quickly; maybe it touched a faulty wire that went berserk; maybe she forgot to turn it off and left the house. How could an unassuming beauty tool become so dangerous?
I didn’t have a curling iron, but the closest thing for me that could lead to a catastrophic event was the stove. It was an electrical appliance I used occasionally to cook ramen noodles. The blue flame created a dreadful feeling in my stomach that a raging fire could consume me and everything around me.
This obsessive thought didn’t just occur; it was fueled by an underlying fear of the unknown: what if my reckless behavior burned down our house or caused some irreparable damage? This type of experience would take years of intensive therapy to get back to my old self.
This fear was prominent growing up in my parent’s home. They were first-generation Korean immigrants who struggled with the language barrier, held various low-paying jobs, and tried to find their niche in American society.
Through years of saving and sacrifice, they finally achieved a bit of the American Dream. They became proud owners of a spacious ranch-styled home in an affluent neighborhood. I was extra vigilant to keep it pristine as they intended. Also, it saved my head from getting chopped off: in case I chipped the marble floors, broke the stain glass windows by the front door, knocked over the porcelain lamps, or broke the Lladro collectible figurines.
After I got married, the tendency was still there to check the stove. Chris found it odd that I always had to take a long look at the stove before leaving our apartment. Blowing my cover was inevitable because the kitchen was right next to the front door.
He was a graceful listener and quick problem solver; he decided to do the checking for me instead. This was a relief, because I could finally let myself off the hook. Also, I could trust him with this job because he’s naturally observant and keen on details. Yet I also wondered, wasn’t this a form of enabling?
Now that I have two young kids, it’s not convenient to stall in front of the stove too long. In the background I hear protests, whining, crying – they want something or to go somewhere NOW! These two little souls motivate me to change for the better. Checking the stove should be just as it sounds. It should not entail sweating, wondering if what I’m seeing is accurate, talking to myself, or staring at the knobs.
It taking time to shift this irrational thinking. The obsessive thought didn’t develop overnight, so I might as well enjoy the ride of learning to undo it. Lately, I’ve even come to laugh at this kooky part of myself; I think this bodes well for me for the future.