Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Neatness leads to perfection

A to Z challenge

Day 14: N is for Neatness


Neatness has always meant perfection to me. It was just within reach. If only I try a bit harder. Oh, to be able to colour perfectly between the lines. Oh, to be the girl with perfect ringlets and crisp dressed instead of the one with flyaway hair and wrinkled that wrinkled the minute I put them on.

I was the kid who spilt pencil shavings on the floor, who knocked over the painting water, trailed breadcrumbs from her lunch, and who said the wrong thing. Oh, the shame going through the whole day with my cardigan buttoned the wrong way. Somebody had noticed. So, that’s what they were laughing about during recess.

Most of all I wanted to be emotionally neat. I wanted to stop my tears and hide when I was angry or upset. My mother was so controlled she would not call out when she burned her hand while cooking. Silent, she would run water over her hand. My youngest sister had inherited this ability to cover her feelings. “Still waters run deep,” said my grandmother to my mother one afternoon when they were watching my sister doing her printing for school. I wanted their admiration for being still and silent. Instead I felt like a silly, babbling brook. Stupid and messy.

Being neat meant being reliable. Being neat meant pleasing people. Being neat meant not taking up too much room. Being neat meant being loved and accepted. I decided neatness would begin with my room. I spent hours each night folding everything in my drawers, making sure everything lined up perfectly. I would not be able to sleep unless everything was in place. Neatness on the outside would seep inside and I would stop losing control and finally be accepted by my mother.

The plan worked for a while but I forgot about my hair. Not my whole head, just the back of my head. What started off as a small knot of tangled hair grew to the size of a grapefruit. I covered it up for awhile but eventually it was too large to hide. It was itchy as well and one day my mother noticed my scratching. I cried when my long hair was turned into a “pixie” cut. I hated my hair but my mother was right. It was neat and easier to look after.

I began to cancel out activities. No more colouring – too messy. No more baking in the kitchen – too messy. Reading was ok since nothing would be disturbed. I would practice my perfect hospital bed corners instead. I created a schedule for improvement in intervals of 15 minutes. Most of the time I didn’t keep to it.

The neat room did not stop the madness of my family or my own. It proved a great distraction until I was old enough to escape.

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