I am compulsive about things. I quadruple check picture frames for straight angles, organize my hanging clothes by season, color and use, and fret about missing socks for an indeterminate time. I arrange my jewelry, my snow globes and my tiny trinkets to face particular angles, all with an aesthetic purpose, if not also for an insane one. I will gaze at a couple of strewn clothes on the floor, my half-made bed, my slightly out of place knick-knacks on the desk, the dust on the floorboards and feel an impending doom. Of course, anyone else would say this room is “clean;” the couple of loose clothes on the floor and the little dust balls in the corner of the room are practically invisible and terribly insignificant to the average person. Yet, my arms and legs crawl with goose bumps at the very thought of those loose clothes and dust balls. In the end, I will fold and refold the merciless shirts into clean, square piles and wipe the rampant smudge of dirt off the mantel for the third time that day so I can reach a state of inner peace.
It all started when I was young and afraid of everything. So afraid, I would blame that book I left crooked on my desk for my test not going well later, or for losing my lunch money and making my mom mad. It was an easy way to seemingly fix all the problems in my life, to grasp at something physical as an explanation for everything else. The idea was that if I left every belonging I had in mint condition each morning, the day would run smoothly and if not, my wildest nightmares could surface to haunt me. And how I began to associate cleanliness with fears of disaster is still a great triumph in my life, if not for its sheer level of insanity and childhood foolishness.
Maybe the real problem is not this absurd association of fear and organization, but that I keep at it again and again. And again. And adding more to my daily routine of fidgeting with the objects on my dressers, the hangers in my closet that I tell my boyfriend “all have to face the same direction,” the forever not organized sock drawer and underwear collection I swear I had folded correctly the first time. It feels like there exists a little devil that comes into my room at night; just to drive me insane, it moves everything an inch, opens a drawer and sticks a loose sock over the edge, leaves the closet door ajar, and unties one originally, perfectly tied shoelace to finish it off. Even today, I do not know who this little devil is and why it prefers to torment me; I would like to think the culprit is my cute, fluffy cat that would not dare claw the wrong thing, much less terrorize my intense organizational system. Or maybe I can blame the house shifting and moving, as my parents like to say, where with every little floorboard creek my hinged picture3 frame starts to close and obscure the smiling faces behind the glass. Or maybe, even worse, it is all in my head, and to be perfectly real and frank with myself, I am just crazy.
And I use the word crazy in a fun, not politically correct manner. I like to think I can call myself crazy and not immediately enlist myself in the nearest psych ward, in full confidence that it is not what I need. Years ago my mom sat me down and asked me, “Have you ever heard of the word, superstition?” And little seven-year-old Ashley replied, “Mom, of course I know what that is... It’s when you’re afraid of everything!” And my mom gently told me it was going to be alright, that she is also afraid, that my dad and my brother and every other human being on this planet also fears things like I do. “Sweetie, if you just talk about things you’re afraid of, I know you’ll feel better,” my mom practically implored. But I was in the stage of my life when I had decided talking was simply overrated.
It was at this point that I started to very unconsciously channel my “superstitions” to tiny routines I would do to relieve this compulsive need to perfect things. It all started with my best friend, Monika. When I was nine years old and had at this point settled into to a new city across the country, the first friend I made told me something, a few months into our blossoming friendship. She was half Korean and Polish and loved telling me things about her culture, which was foreign to me and highly exciting to the pure bred Texan girl, who had never seen a non-white or non-Mexican soul in her life. She told me that in Korean culture the number four is a lucky number (it is in fact an unlucky number), and that she was going to start going about her day in fours. We made a pact, as we liked to do everything together, that we would both live our lives in fours, because why would we not want to be that lucky! And this is when I got in the habit of turning light switches on and off four times, touching my backpack four times before I could pick it up, washing my hands four times (something my mom was proud of), checking my tests four times, poking at my glass of milk four times before drinking it... In hindsight, thank God no one told me then that I was asking to be the unluckiest little girl on the planet.
And with that, I know I can move on, or else superstition should have reared its evil head on my entire childhood.