Chaos Theory

  • Barbarella

Sanity is a small price to pay for happiness.

-- Marabeth Madsen

It had only been a clump of clay, a pebble-sized bit of hardened scraggy earth the color of cement; but once wedged in the soft fleshy nook between my third and fourth toe, it was a seed of pure evil, planted there by Lucifer. I hobbled, cursing, to a chair, on which I managed to pitch my ass while simultaneously lifting my foot to my face. I seized the offending bit of plaster with two fingers and chucked it across the room, or at least I tried to make it that far -- its insignificant weight offered only enough momentum to allow it to fly a few feet before landing on the paper below with a thwap that was, in the end, unsatisfactory. A muscle I never knew I had, located near the top of my left cheekbone where it meets the bottom of my eye socket, began to twitch. Having been pushed so slowly, and in such small increments, I had not realized how close I'd come to the vast chasm of insanity until I was perched on its verge, staring desperately into its depths.

"Are you okay?" It took a moment for the words to penetrate the cocoon in which I was suffocating. "Hey, Barb . Are you all right?"

No , I thought. "Yes," I said.

David eyed me cautiously. "You sure? You look like you're about to, I don't know, freak out or something."

"I'm fine, really," I insisted.

"Then why are you doing that?"


"Why are you fiddling with that stuff on the table? Why are you touching everything with each of your fingers? You're OCD-ing, aren't you," accused David. I've told him a thousand times that I'm not "obsessive-compulsive," but he likes to point out my little rituals, those things I do that help me to feel like I have some semblance of control -- repetitive, symmetrical movements that I am convinced might somehow rid me of negative emotions.

"I need to get out of here," I said. " Now ."

Our place had only been under siege for two weeks, but it felt like two years. Months ago, when the plans were made, I agreed with David that if we were going to get it done, we should get it all done at once -- to experience a greater inconvenience for a few weeks instead of intermittent nuisances spanning several months. Once the crew arrived with all of their equipment, however, I questioned the logic.

The first day, furniture was moved away from the walls and covered with its emptied drawers, stacks of books, and artwork. All of this was covered with a Saran-Wrappy thin plastic. Brown paper was taped to the floor in almost every room, canvas was draped on the stairs, and pretty soon, dust from the sanding covered the kitchen counters and every surface reachable by air.

Home improvement is like plastic surgery, only not quite as shallow. The home is a temple, one's sanctuary; David and I have elicited the help of professionals to make ours look more like we want it to, knowing full well how uncomfortable the process might be. Okay, maybe not "full well."

"Where are you going?" David asked. I was grabbing my keys, purse, a sweater, trying to force myself to breathe more slowly to avoid hyperventilating.

"I don't know," I muttered. "Somewhere. Anywhere."

"Can I go with you?" I nodded, and David followed me out the door.

Once in the car, David asked me if I wanted him to drive. "No!" I snapped a little too quickly. I made it down the block to Balboa Park before I stopped trying to hold back an anguished grunt, the uttering of which triggered a torrent of tears, the physical form of frustration that had been welling up for weeks. I hazarded a glimpse at David. The contours of his face were ever changing under the artificial illumination of headlights and street lamps, but there was no mistaking his befuddled expression.

Nothing was being forced on us. Each member of the four women and one man crew from Ox & Olive (a local painting and faux-finish company) was friendly and considerate. They were doing exactly what we'd asked them, what we were paying them to do. Still, having people in your home -- whether they are guests or temporary employees -- feels intrusive after a while. In our case, intrusions are magnified by the fact that David and I both work from home. David's office was covered in plastic, his five computers unplugged for the unknown duration of the project. Rather than freaking out, he busied himself in the kitchen, preparing gourmet lunches for the crew. My office may have been left untouched, but it was packed with more crap than a waste-treatment plant, which only exacerbated the overwhelming sense of disarray and lack of control I felt.

David was patient and quiet as I drove aimlessly up and down the streets of downtown, toggling between muttered curses and sobs, until I ended up at Laurel Restaurant & Bar. "A drink," I said. "What we need -- what I need -- is a drink. And something tasty."

We chose corner seats and did our best to suppress the persistent coughs we'd each been suffering, a leftover symptom of the cold we'd been trading back and forth for weeks. After I'd had a few sips of a crisp and fruity viognier , and after I'd nibbled from a decadent artisanal cheese board, I inhaled deeply, let the air out slowly, and said, "Now I know why crazy people hoard shit." David waited as I savored another sip of wine. "You know," I explained, "your environment outside is a reflection of what's going on inside. Crazy people create an environment of chaos and disorder to reflect their inner turmoil and confusion. Their 'inner' forces them to create their 'outer.'" David raised his brows, encouraging me to get to some kind of point. "What I'm trying to say is... I'm beginning to feel like our place looks ."

David took a moment to enjoy his lycheetini. After applying caramelized onions to a slice of gorgonzola-covered baguette, his gaze found my face. His lips opened as if to say something and then closed, as though he couldn't locate the words he needed. Finally, his face lit up as though illuminated by a bulb from above. With a voice full of spirit and conviction, he said, "Our place is going to look awesome ."

I smiled at this sudden display of charming enthusiasm. I felt the tightness of my cheeks rise and my lips turn up in amusement and I realized that it had been a while since I'd donned such an oversized grin. It was contagious. Soon, David and I were staring at each other with stupid, love-drunk expressions, like two geeks who just got their hands on a prerelease bootleg of Lord of the Rings 4 . "Yeah," I agreed, raising my glass in a toast. "It's gonna look fucking great ."

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