Interview: Acacia Blackwell’s Obsession

Editor Acacia Blackwell, Interview, July 29th, 2016

"The number four goes a little bit beyond what can be rationalized."

acacia blackwell obsession with number four


NAILED MAGAZINE: Is there an obsession that was not your own that you ended up taking on? Someone else’s obsession that affected your life deeply and became yours?


On April 4th of this year I was almost asleep when I got that feeling that something was wrong. I had missed something. Left the oven on or forgotten to walk the dog. I got out of bed and checked. Oven off. No sign of dog shit. But I hadn’t called my mom. It was the fourth day of the fourth month and I hadn’t talked to her. Forget that it was 2016. That’s a whole other level.

My mom is obsessed with the number four. Not like it’s her favorite number. It’s deeper than that.

She has other obsessions, too. Food. Church. Babies. But something about the number four goes a little bit beyond what can be rationalized. It’s deeper than preventing waste, more sacred, at times, than religion.

When I was little and my mom was a single mother in her twenties we went to a lot of movies. We always stopped at the corner store for candy. M&Ms or Jujubees. In the theater she would divide the pieces into groups of four. The remainder was mine; one or two or three. Never four. And if it broke even I was out of luck.

Sometimes it’s a price tag. If my mom sees anything priced at $4.44, $44, or by some miracle $44.44, she’ll buy it. When I was a kid I got a lot of gifts thanks to these coincidences. I wasn’t supposed to get a new dress for graduation, not even a cheap one. But when we went to buy shoes, she saw it. A white, strappy Diane Von Furstenberg dress printed with pink and red ladybugs, my childhood obsession. It was $444.

Sometimes it’s a dressing room. She would try on clothes four items at a time and sure enough we’d leave with four new shirts. But more than the shirts, it was about the plastic dressing room tag: a diamond shaped emblem with a little hook on top displaying that sacred digit. Stealing was wrong, she said. But the number four was bigger than situational ethics. It still hangs from her rear view mirror.

Sometimes it’s a microwave. In my mother’s house there’s a rule that you only enter times into the microwave that have a four in them. 44 seconds to reheat coffee. Two minutes and four seconds for cream of wheat. 3:44 for ramen. I did it out of habit for most of my life, or I thought it was normal. I still do it sometimes, even in my own house. If she caught you putting something into the microwave she’d remind you: 2:44. Not three minutes.

We thought it was cute at first, my stepdad and I. One of those quirks of personality that we find so appealing and then, over time, start to resent. Eventually, as he and I grew closer, we started to use it against her. I became a teenager and my mom’s little quirks—the obsessive-compulsive control of food in the house, the selective hearing, the fours—became the butt of our jokes. Every day, every minute that I grew closer to my stepdad, my relationship with my mother transformed. For years it was she and I: a single mother in her early twenties and her precocious little protégé. We were one soul. She was creating me in her image. When she remarried, she gave me a father. And that father gave me a voice that didn’t belong to my mom anymore.

More than once, when I was microwaving dinner with both of them in the kitchen, I made a choice. I put the plate in, shut the door, and looked at my mom. She didn’t have to say it. She just had to raise one eyebrow and shoot me the look. Do it my way. I’d look at my stepdad who didn’t have to say much either. I wanted to impress him and he wanted to push her buttons. So I chose. I entered three minutes even. It was bad. No fours. No multiples of four. Not even an even number. I don’t know if she ever really forgave me for choosing.

And here I am, telling this story. A story I’ve lived and told and fixated upon for my entire conscious life. Her story is my story. I’m obsessed with her obsession.

A few months before I forgot to call, before we stopped talking altogether for a while, I got a tattoo on a whim, a tiny number four on my left ankle. I’m still trying to show her that I love her even when I can’t stand her.

It was too late to call that night so I sent her a text message. Happy 4/4. I didn’t forget.

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Acacia Blackwell

Acacia is a writer from Portland, OR, which suits her because sunshine gives her anxiety. She is currently completing an MFA, despite being recently told by Tom Spanbauer that to become a better writer, she needs to "unlearn all that grad school stuff." She listened, and it seems to be working. Acacia is working on a collection of personal essays that she really doesn't want to admit might be a memoir, and a memoir that she really doesn't want to admit might be a novel.