Yesterday morning my son came bursting into my room, threw open the closet door, and started rifling through the clothes hanging inside. This, of course, while I was still trying to sleep.
“Where are all my stinkin’ dress shirts?” He asked, somewhat accusingly.
“Have you tried the floor in your room?” I admit that, in retrospect, this response may have sounded somewhat snotty.
“Look, dude, I keep my dress shirts in your closet so they don’t get wrecked, and I haven’t worn one in like eight months.”
“In that case, have you tried the bottom of the floor in your room?”
If you look at my son’s room from his doorway( the last safe vantage point ), you will be shocked. The closest way to describe it is like a video from the aftermath of a tornado, except that his walls and roof are still intact. I half expect a few splintered two by fours to be sticking up at odd angles, and the anguished cries of some old lady(“Help me, I’m under the fridge.”) to waft up out of the piles of clothing on the floor. The last time I dared venture in, I cracked my ankle on a ten pound barbel disguised as a pair of basketball shorts. His room is a source of both horror and consternation for my wife; she likes a clean house, and resents that a good portion of it is considered off-limits to visitors. I , however, see it for what it is: a genetic predisposition…
I grew up in the same bedroom my son has now( can’t get anything past you – we live in my childhood home ). I arranged my room back then with the same sense of decor as my son. Only the walls were visible, adorned schizophrenically with band posters and framed pictures hung at odd angles. The floor was a nightmare of clothing, shoes, school papers and discarded remnants of meals( I once found a sandwich bag that had held a bologna and mustard sandwich; it was pureed, greenish-black, pungent and unrecognizable). My closet door bulged outward from the pressure of the contents within. The door was Hoover Dam, and inside a veritable Lake Mead of debris waited for a chance at freedom. To open it was to release a torrent that would wipe out anything downstream( in this case, my room, a bathroom, the hallway and finally, the living room). Whenever I couldn’t find something of critical importance, it always became a family crisis( “It’s not in my room; I already looked.” ). It never occurred to me that some sense of order would eliminate the issue; my son is the same way today.
One particular incident underscored the severity of the problem. I had a pet water turtle, a Red-Eared Slider. He( she? ) had a lovely plastic terrarium, complete with a small island and green palm tree. I named it Timothy, and this turtle was most pleasing to me; it ate, voraciously, virtually anything I put in there, from flies to bits of hamburger. It always swam over whenever I approached, with head extended. At the time, I took this as a sign of affection and not a conditioned response to the prospect of being fed.
One day, Timothy was gone. I regarded his absence with a reaction typical of a child of twelve: I thought huh…interesting. My mom’s poodle had eaten my last turtle( Timothy I ), so that was a likely scenario, or perhaps he had climbed out. A cursory search of the room revealed nothing, however, and after a brief period of mourning( minutes ), I moved on with my life. I left the terrarium, in case Timothy decided to return by shimmying up a table leg, traversing the underside of the desktop to its edge, then pulling himself up and over.
Some weeks later, my mother had somehow won the war of wills and I was forced to clean my room. Behind my door, under a bunch of clothes and assorted debris, lay my forgotten friend. Timothy was still alive, but only barely; he was a shriveled shadow of his former self. He looked at me as if to say, “Thank God you found me. I knew you’d never stop looking for me. I’m so glad to be alive; I am saved.” As I picked him up, I noticed a small mushroom growing in the carpet beneath him. I took this to mean he might have been in that particular spot for some time, but didn’t find it especially odd or disgusting that fungus was growing in my room.
I surmised, brilliantly, that a shriveled turtle was in obvious need of water and food, so I plopped him into the terrarium and threw in some chunks of hamburger. Yay, my buddy’s back, I thought as I went back to “cleaning” my room( lots of room under the bed and mom’s bad back were a convenient combination ), then left to do whatever it is twelve-year-old boys do.
The next time I checked on him, Timothy was dead. As I reflect back on what happened, I think it likely that he drowned. In his weakened condition, he needed water, but at a depth that might allow him to breathe. I had filled his terrarium to the top, because he needed a lot of water, and he was probably too weak to swim up to the surface. How misguided his excitement at having been found and rescued by me.
The experience did nothing to improve my habits. It took marriage and the threat of bodily injury to get me to the level of cleanliness( better, but still substandard) I maintain today. I am, predictably, more understanding and lenient towards my son with respect to how he keeps his room than is my wife. He can’t help it; it’s in his blood. I do draw the line, however, at allowing him to keep turtles( or old ladies )in his room.