The Apartment: Struggling With Another Day of Perfection

In Sacred & Profane by Donna Johnsonleave a COMMENT

My apartment follows me wherever I go, leaving me no peace from its constant demands to rearrange the contents within its walls.

It is almost impossible to rest here, as my apartment compels me to do things with such force it’s like a prison guard and I am its prisoner. Thus, I will wake up at all hours, as if I must clock into the night-shift and begin working voraciously, persistently, without sitting down for a minute until my work is done. This might take as long as 18 hours, though I try to minimize this activity to 10 hours a day. But no matter how long it takes, I must soldier on until everything is perfect.

And what is perfect, you may ask? Perfect is when everything matches, including the furniture, paintings on the walls, and the clothing I am wearing, down to the matching scarf on my dog, Mallory. Sometimes this means I must paint over every painting in the house, which, as you can imagine, is quite time-consuming even though I am a fast painter. Then I must clean up all the paint I have dribbled over the floor, which is also very difficult, especially when I have let it dry.

It causes great problems with my husband, who cannot understand my constant activity of rearranging. He will say to me, “My dearest, the apartment looks beautiful. Can you not come to bed now?”

I lie to him just to keep the peace: “Of course, my love, I’ll be right in.” And sometimes I actually do this, daring to assert my will against that of the apartment’s, but I know it isn’t any use. Within a few minutes I will remember something I forgot to do. Perhaps a tea towel that once matched the previous color scheme of red was left out in the new color scheme of blue; now that towel calls for me to get up out of bed and put it out of sight, or spend another 10 hours making sure everything coordinates with the blue. This can go on for days.

Sometimes, just to spite the apartment and assert my own self-control again, I will sit down on the couch in front of the window with the perfectly matching curtains, vase, and flowers, and within seconds I will fall asleep (passed out is more like it) for two or three fitful hours. I have no peace: Even in my dreams, I am rearranging the furniture, putting up new curtains, and making sure the towels, sheets, paintings, and ashtrays are color-coordinated and in perfect balance.

My best friends, Harriet and Leonard, are not unaware of my activities and never fail to comment on the appearance of my apartment. When they arrive this evening, Harriet sits on the couch in her pale yellow dress and waves her hand around the room. “My, this arrangement of blues quite complements the blue of your eyes.”

“Thank you,” I reply, sitting and rocking in the blue chair across from them, having taken a small Valium before they arrived so that I could actually socialize a bit with my friends. It is a struggle to keep my eyes open, though, exhausted as I am from the previous evening’s labor—so I sneak into the bathroom and swallow half an Adderall, which puts me in a fine state of mind. I am able to converse almost like a normal person, which clearly I am not, but neither are Harriet and Leonard.

It all goes well as Leonard sits in the corner in his morose, judgmental state, drinking one Diet Coke after the other, and Harriet and I sip hot tea out of fragile blue and yellow china. Harriet discloses that she decided not to sell her house after all, at which point Leonard is roused from out of his near-comatose state to ask: “What about those 24 boxes of books we lugged down the stairs to get rid of so that we could sell the house?”

Harriet smiles at him, revealing her beautiful dimples: “Why, we’ll just have to carry them upstairs and put them back on the shelves.” She begins to file her nails, pretending not to notice the stricken look on Leonard’s face as he contemplates all the work he has in store for him, just to reverse all the work he has already done helping his beloved Harriet. I know well what he is feeling and groan for him.

After they leave, I sleep for an unheard of (for me) eight hours. When I wake up, birds are singing outside my window and the smell of honeysuckle seems to free my spirit, until I hear the compelling voice of my apartment ordering me to begin a new day, a new color scheme, a new round of torture.

“You don’t order me around,” I declare, and I shake my fist in the air, light a cigarette, and sip the previous night’s wine. “I’m the boss here.” 

The living room looks beautiful in the soft morning light—lavenders mixed with palest blues blended with cream lace and darker blues and indigo. It is a delight and I am happy for a few moments until the nagging voice of compulsion returns.

There must be a way out of this—I cannot go on like this, I think.

There is a way out of this. Pouring a large dollop of whiskey into my coffee, I pick up the phone and dial the number of my doctor, who will prescribe another round of Paxil for me. She calls in my prescription and I get ready to pick it up, wondering why I didn’t do this sooner. Sometimes the best solution is the easiest one, the one right in front of your nose, the one you neglect to take because it seems too easy—and because we don’t feel we deserve to be happy. But I do deserve to be happy; we all do.

Putting on a plaid shirt and polka-dot shorts, I place an unmatching collar on Mallory and march out the door, out of the apartment, and go to pick up my medicine as the sun warms the top of my head in a most magnificent way.

Donna Johnson describes herself as a person who thrives on breaking the rules other people have made while also creating rules for herself that do make sense. “My rules do not necessarily follow the law set out by the government and law-abiding citizens,” she says. “They follow an inner law, one unto myself, and when I attempt to go outside this, to conform, disaster follows.” Her stories are often about people who are not recognized by others, who may even seem invisible, but “they often have a great truth to share if one but listens.”

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