By my approximation, the knife sits in proper proportion to the cutting board: 90-degree angled, blade turned inwards and at least two inches separate from the mise-en-place. The thumb-bowls are three in number. Julienned radishes, slivered scallions, and minced garlic in symmetric row. I rest an avocado near the cutting board and, by no accident, it completes some idea of balance.
I could take a picture of this.
I set a fork down. The tines are pointed north. Were they south, I just might feel uncomfortable.
Findlay sits in his high chair and grunts. Nine months in and that’s his contribution to the world: seat-bouncing bearish grumbles. I’m attempting to re-situate the mise-en-place, placing a pepper-grinder left of center, and exclaiming: ‘Be right with you, Finn.’ He’s meanwhile manhandling a crinkly toy, smunching cellophane with his hands and starting to fuss. ‘Be right with you, Finn.’ My voice is reaching a slightly higher register.
I move the peppermill two centimeters to the left. I’m suddenly ok. You could project the Golden Mean over my kitchen set-up, and there’d be perfect alignment. Seriously: the radishes are amazingly julienned, uniformly 1/8 inch in cut, and the garlic is a perfect brunoise. With the leeks perpendicular as they are, this mise-en-place may well as be a Piet Mondrian done in food.
Finn cries. He’s my square peg in a round hole.
I turn my attention towards Finn, and the crying stops. And neatly. It’s uncanny: one minute it’s an exhaustive cry, then—on the inhalation—it’s a laugh. His eyes widen blue when meeting mine. This is his gambit. Daddy—your move. He actually pushes forward in his highchair.
“Kid—I don’t understand you.” I smirk.
I’m met with a smile, stereotypic. Children with Down syndrome share faces and that smile is a reminder that Finn belongs to something else besides his heredity.
He’s actually been watching me for a spell and suddenly I feel exposed. ‘Obsessive Compulsive Symmetry Disorder.’ I’m self-diagnosed. Yes: I move and remove things from the kitchen to exact a space; I’m in the practice of ‘evening’ things, dismissing whatever is odd and creating scalene balance out of Mason jars and prep bowls and cutting boards; I arrange compulsively in direct defiance of entropy.
‘Daddy: what’re you doing?’ Those blue eyes.
Would I could explain this. It’s a foolhardy gesture to lift a chin against the Second Law of Thermodynamics, a Sisyphean task really. The Second Law dictates how energy will always decompose into degraded form: order into chaos. And–in an old story, Sisyphus is cursed to push his boulder up a mountain. Every time Sisyphus pushes his rock up the mountain, it’s always sure to roll down the other side. Sisyphus is condemned to push it back up, senselessly, and with callused hands.
Sisyphus, mind you was a right bastard. You can look it up in Greek mythology. He certainly earned his eternal task of fruitless labor. But, to lend him some sympathy, there is nothing so frustrating as seeing a task undone–experiencing the undoing of a doing–as entropy takes over and reduces your labors to a sum-nothing. The Second Law of Thermodynamics sucks.
I mean, don’t we all just hate dusting? When dust collects shortly after we’ve passed a rag over the countertop?
“I know, Finn,” I take care to turn the cumin seed bottle label-frontwards. I check the cork-stopper. I twist it twice. “I know, Findlay.” Finn smiles. Findlay is the easiest kid on the planet. He allows me my behavior, my Sisyphean charge against entropy.
Finn’s blue eyes are constellated with white dots. They’re decorated with Brushfield Spots, anomalies reserved for children with Down’s. Stromal hyperplasia if you’re so inclined. This means Finn’s eyes have aggregate cells, extra cells which pearl something fantastic along the iris perimeter. I liken them to the quartz crystals that decorate expensive men’s watches.
I don’t own a wristwatch. But I have Finn’s eyes.
We all have something. This friend of mine: we’re shooting darts in a garage and he laconically smokes a cigarette. ‘For a year,’ he says, ‘I never used a declarative phrase.’ He ashes, expertly.
(We are drinking Jim Beam & Coke. Rather much of it.)
“I could’ve said: ‘this house is yellow.’ But I wouldn’t. Instead: ‘this house is yellow, I THINK.’
“There was a…moral residue tainting my world. Like, I couldn’t say ‘I’—that would’ve been somehow…less than benevolent. This whole deferral system: it was a moral undertaking for me. ”
I appreciate this. My friend: he always shoots for the bottom half of the dartboard, and he hits a triple ‘7’. I always aim for the top of the board. He wins periodically, as do I. We’re a pretty even match.
“And I was obsessed with numeric systems: 3’s, 4’s, and 7’s. Things that hold quasi-religious significance.”
Which means the trip seven’s are probably no accident. Three=Trinity. And seven. Seven is the numerical symbol of fullness by biblical standards. In Revelations, seven angels bring seven plagues, and upon the seventh trumpet, the mystery of God is supposed to be revealed, or ‘finished’ if you read the Greek translation. In Greek ‘teleos’ is ‘finished’. You can also translate the word to mean ‘fulfilled’ or ‘closed.’
We have our superstitions. There’s that phrase, ‘a means to an end.’ As best I can figure, this OCD thing is an attempt at being teleological. My friend—he has his lack of subjectivity and the number seven. Me—I have my compulsion to arrange. When all’s aligned, there is closure and an extra-sensorial idea of fulfillment. Which is really right fucking stupid—all superstitions are—but, hey, means to an end. I just confessed to finding comfort in a carefully orchestrated mise-en-place. And why that comforts me, I don’t know. Would I could snip the nerve that finds peace in symmetry: it’s just faulty programming. Symmetry always dissolves into the asymmetrical. And I’m left always–and stupidly–lifting a chin against entropy.
The thing about Finn’s eyes: the Brushfield Spots are gorgeous. It’s a cruelty that they’re deemed a genetic mistake. He watches me with an intent that is old-soul worthy and those precipitate spots are incredible. A doctor took at look at my eyes once, and he told me they were beautiful, too. He, of course, was looking at them through some optometric binoculars and he was remarking my lenses, cholesterol spotted and galaxy-like in their disease. I’m 35. I’ve since had both lenses siphoned out of my eyeballs and new ones put in place. Talk about genetic mistake.
There is a certain order in Finn’s eyes. I see it, at least. When we look at each other, it’s important.
You see: a recovery room nurse whose name I won’t remember, hinted at Finn’s diagnosis on the day he was born. She couldn’t tell me legally what her suspicion was, and she just penned Finn’s name to a newborn cap and blathered on about cyanosis and improper oxygen registers. She would signal over other nurses and wordlessly point to his eyes, his head, his immature genitalia. She batted away my questions. I won’t say she was a liar, but she was.
The day was asymmetrical and I felt like I was falling upwards. In a hallway, I paused with my phone open to the Facebook app. What am I announcing exactly? I was standing by a picture window and the society garlic was flowering.
I put my phone away. I only had one bar anyways, an odd number.
The first thing I noticed was that Finn’s eyes were blue. On a Mendelian Punnett Square, this was an improbability, but certainly a possibility. He came with an extra chromosome, too. Improbable, but certainly not impossible. We just had no idea.
I am uncomfortable when things aren’t aligned. Trisomy-21. That’s a three and a twenty-one. Mind you, this obliterates my sense of symmetry but I have to make sense of it. ‘21’ is a three times seven. Those threes and sevens again.
I have a hard time living in my skin, but when the math works its superstitious manner, I guess I’m ok.
Finn’s eyes have spots. I know this well. I have OCD. I know this, too, though I haven’t heard it from a doctor’s mouth.
OCD runs in the family. It has manifested itself in different forms, sometimes criminal, sometimes self-destructive. Various family members have landed in institutions, corrective and otherwise. I’m lucky, I guess. My house is simply tidy. And I can leave it voluntarily: no one’s affixed an asylum door to the house just yet.
I busy myself in the kitchen, frittering away, wheeling wider circles, too, as room by room I set the house into idiosyncratic order; I arrange and I adjust, waiting for that moment entropy is momentarily at bay and I can relax—languor, even—in that microsecond the universe is sufficiently aligned and my brain can stop emitting its maddening impulses, that moment when Sisyphus’ boulder is poised at the top of the mountain and the only energy present is latent energy—immortalized by that great coefficient K—the moment the boulder leaves Sisyphus’ hand and energy shifts and the boulder is momentarily staid, awaiting its downward descent but still resting Buddha-like, all K, all still, just resting after an ascent, and potentializing.
I rest my knife west of the cutting board and I look into Finn’s eyes.