Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Chaotic Order

My whole life was about to change at about age thirty: I was going to step into a hole and spend the coming years in the dark. Typical, I thought, for my life as I lived it then--in bewilderment, frowning at the futility and resenting the squandered time as it unrolled and flapped around me--seemed ragged and plotless: random, rancorous, out of my control, meandering from disorder to chaos, in the general direction of oblivion. In retrospect, from the vantage point of middle age--from the helpful heights and clear air that are part of aging's greatest consolations--I see that my life was in fact closely plotted and consequential, with the structural elaboration and subtle motifs of a Victorian novel, interwoven with grace notes, subplots, and coincidences that stretched credulity and yet were inevitable. This life of mine--perhaps all lives?--suffered from an excess of design: nothing was random, nothing wasted. The hole I'd stepped into was a magical thoroughfare that carried me to the future.

Though, as I say, at the time it all appeared to be an aimless monochrome of regret and shame, wrong turns and pointless effort. Whatever befell me, my mother's shrill cry was always: "It's your own goddamn fault!" That blame rang in my head for years.

Oddly, the clutter of my apartment reminds me of my relationship with my mother. More than any other place, the main room of my studio apartment, with its congested disorder, is symbolic of all my mother tried but failed to inculcate in me in all the years of my growing up. Vagrant pieces of furniture from different times and places are thrown together, partly out of financial necessity, and partly because of my eclectic taste. Oddly, these incongruous ingredients create a symmetry that another, more deliberately furnished apartment would lack. My apartment is an enchanted place--a place of orderly chaos--that carries me to the future.

My mother would go crazy if she were to see the piles of books and magazines against the wall and the assorted CDs and ceramic vases and plates and cups on the table and the curtainless window, which I refuse to dress. Does it really matter? My apartment window abuts an apartment building about twenty feet away whose nine-storey brick wall stands mute to the goings-on in my apartment.

When I was a child, my mother after surveying the clutter in my bedroom would lament, "I don't know if you really belong to me. Didn't I raise you to be orderly and organized?" Her tone was serious, but she repeated the same complaint to me for so many years that by adolescence it was almost a tender ritual. "Gary," she would say, "you are a grown-up boy now; act like one." Yet there was something in her tone that kept me young and fragile and obstinate, and still, when in memory I hear her voice, I know I never lived up to her expectations. I never did become the man she tried to will me into being.

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