Sleeping with the Enemy


When I met Flash, he was a neat freak. His dad told me, “You’re good for Flash; he needs to mellow out.” But it took a while.

The first time I had dinner at Flash’s apartment, I caught a glance of his pantry. Every can faced forward, with the front of the labels showing. And they were categorized. The peas with the peas, the carrots with the carrots, and so on. I heard the Psycho shower-scene music in my head as I turned to Flash and asked, “You put all your veggies together with their kind? Segregated veggies?”

“Yeah. Don’t you?”

“No. I have a life.”

“Well, it makes sense to put them together. It’s faster when you’re fixing dinner.”

“Oh yes, I’ve spent many milliseconds reaching to the back of my pantry to find the green beans mingling with the sliced beets. Do you get upset if a can is out of place?”

“They are never out of place. Unless someone else moves one,” he explained as he gave me his don’t-even-think-about-doing-it look. “If that happens, I simply move it to the correct spot.”

This could be a problem later, I thought. I’m not that serious about my cans. Or condiments. Or pantry. Or kitchen. Or life.

In his living room were built-in bookshelves. On those shelves lived 150 ceramic owls. It was an intense atmosphere, with their constantly staring. While Flash was in the kitchen one evening, I remedied the situation.

After he joined me in the living room, we talked for about 20 minutes. Suddenly, his beady little eyes (they're cute, but they're beady) widened; he was panic-stricken. “What happened to my owls?

“What are you talking about?” I turned to look at the bookshelf, then looked back at him as if he were crazy. Which he was.

“My owls.”

“Yes. What about them?”

“They’re all turned around. All of them. Did you do that?”

I’m not sure how else he thought that might have happened. Someone broke in while he was at work, to turn the owls? He turned them while sleepwalking the night before?”

“Why would I do that?” I answered.

“Yes, why would you?” Immediately, he got up and started flipping the birds. “I don’t like people turning my owls.”

“So, this has happened before?”

“Um, no. I’m just saying. Don’t do that again.”

I was stunned over his psychological disturbance; he was appalled at my nerve. We were a match made in the annals of abnormal psychology.

“I just couldn’t take 300 eyeballs looking at me every time I came over here. Oh, make it 298; that white one has his eyes closed.”

Flash didn’t appreciate my explanation. I never touched his beloved owls again.

When we got married, the craziness continued. Not that I thought “I do” would mean “He won’t” when it came to his everything-in-its-proper-place-and-facing-forward rules.

“I like it when all the laundry is done. That’s what I’m used to,” he explained to his new bride, two months after the wedding bells tolled. Indeed, they tolled for me; the honeymoon was dangerously close to being snuffed out. He was whispering sweet absolute nothings about laundry.

“The laundry is done,” I said.

“No it’s not,” the Cuckoo Man countered.

Suddenly, the moon eclipsed the sun, creating darkness over the earth. Love bugs everywhere dropped dead, and Cupid took cover. Soon, there would be a short memorial service in the courtyard to commemorate the short life of Romance.

“Flash, I just did it this afternoon.”

“There are dirty clothes in here,” he said, pointing to the hamper. “It’s not all done.”

I looked down and saw one white t-shirt and a pair of underwear. My laughter rang through the air; he was not smiling.

“You mean you never had anything in the hamper when you were single?”

“No. The laundry was always clean,” he replied with a confused look on his face. Clearly, he was rethinking his vow to stay married to me “for better or worse.”

“Not one single item was ever in your hamper?” I couldn’t fathom it.

“No. Nothing.”

I could hear laundry hamper manufacturers scream all over the country, or in Taiwan. If Flash’s habits caught on and spread like wildfire, their wares would be obsolete.

“Washing clothes every day is a waste of time and money. I will do laundry on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” I proclaimed. Flustered, he walked away, shaking his head and saving our marriage. After several weeks of intensive counseling, he adjusted, rather than do his own laundry.

Once we had the schedule down, Flash gave me a tutorial: T-Shirt Folding 2.0. “Let me show you how to fold t-shirts,” he began.

“Really, Flash, I’ve been folding shirts for years. I used to sell men’s clothing at a local department store. We were trained in folding shirts. Pretty sure I’ve got this down.”

“No, no, no,” he instructed, “you can fit more in the drawers if you fold them my way. You’ll see.” He laid the first shirt, one of many to be re-folded, onto the bed and demonstrated.

His method made the shirts look bulkier to me. But, to make atonement for turning owls and moving his remote controls from their designated box, I folded his way for the first few years. Then I regressed. He said nothing about it; by that time, he was thankful when I washed, dried, and folded his clothes using any method.

I’ve read that the brain’s patterns are solidified by about age 25; by the time I met Flash, it was too late for him to be rehabilitated. This is evidenced by his shirts, in our closet, hanging according to color and sleeve length throughout our marriage. My clothes are fortunate if they get to hang; yesterday’s jeans and t-shirt are strewn on my shoe shelf.

His underwear and sock drawers are works of art. My underthings are integrated with socks, mashed down so I can shut the drawer. Even Flash’s tools in the garage are arranged by function, on their assigned shelves. I haven’t seen my girly, teal-colored tools since 1999.

My husband’s organizational skills are Practically Perfect in Every Way. It’s why Mary Poppins is one of his favorite films. She’s who he wanted to marry.

Instead, he got Oscar Madison.

Flash has mellowed as a clean freak, occasionally writing “Dust Me” across the TV screen with his finger, rather than making it sparkle. But his organizational skills have stood the test of living with me. Sucked into a world of chaos, he continues to put his shoes away, and can always find his car keys. I find the latter rather disgusting. He’s missing out on the panic-laced search for keys when you have 15 minutes to get somewhere and have no way to start the car. It’s exhilarating.

“Why don’t you put your keys in the same place every day?” he used to ask. He hung a cute metal mail holder in the kitchen, with hooks on the bottom for each set of keys. It worked for a few months. But after a while, it looked too cluttered. The keys made it look ugly. I took it down to give the illusion of a cleaner kitchen, and quickly returned to my Hide and Seek: Drivers Edition game.

I’m a free spirit; Flash has hang-ups. My life is a game show; his is predictable. When I’m looking for something, I know it’s in my purse, or on my bathroom counter, or in the guest room closet, or in my kitchen junk drawer. Flash is just lazy about the search. And I get blamed for the occasional blips in his quaint obsessive world.

“I can’t find my car keys,” he said three days ago. “I need my keys. Where are they? In your purse? In your junk drawer? Perhaps in your toothbrush holder?”

“How should I know?”

Of course, he thinks I know. He’s convinced he loses nothing, apart from me.

Not another word was mentioned about the keys. Which always means that he found them in the last place where he put them.

Being curious, and to prove a point, I texted Flash the next day. “So, where did you find your car keys yesterday?”

“On top of the microwave. I don’t put them there, so that’s why I didn’t notice them there.”

So, I pushed a little more, rather than get my ire up over his inference. “Well, apparently you did.”

Nothing. Not one little text word came back to me. The silence spoke volumes. Bam! Down came the gavel. The verdict: Guilty of losing his keys by omission of further text evidence.

I met him at the door that night with balloons and party horns. “Welcome to my world, honey! You’re like a regular person now. I’m so glad you’ve joined me in my Paradise Lost and Found. Now, let’s go look for that third pair of sunglasses you’ve misplaced this week.”

They say couples who’ve been together a long time start to take on the characteristics of each other. I see Flash slipping a little more, lately. Last week, his sneakers were next to his bed, not in their assigned spot in the closet, for three days in a row. And his jacket’s been on the back of a dining room chair for a week now. There is hope for him; he has, indeed, mellowed.

I, on the other hand, have remained true to my standards; Felix hasn’t converted me yet. Oh, sure, my keys are usually in my purse now, which is a dull way to live. But marriage is about compromise. And Flash got tired of helping me search for them. In all other areas, I’ll continue to live a life of creative chaos. There’s a lot of madness in Flash’s methods; I must remain the sane one in this relationship.