Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Very recently an episode of Hoarders aired that featured a mother and daughter from my home town. I was in awe over how people responded. Some were sympathetic, but many were critical and quite horrible in their reactions. The local paper did a story over hoarding, and for a while it was all anyone could talk about. The night of the episode, I looked on Facebook to see how my friends responded. One girl, who lived probably six houses down from me, was in complete shock that anyone in our small town lived like that. Many jokes were cracked, and I couldn't help but think that I lived so close to her with no one ever suspecting a thing. 

I realized from the replies of people I was friends with when I was younger that I was right in being guarded about our secret. I sometimes regret not telling family or a teacher I trusted. I start to think life might be better had I been bold enough to reach out to someone. Seeing the harsh reactions of people from my home town brought me to reality. We lived in a small town where gossip thrived. Children... even adults... are cruel and judging. Our family would have been in the same spotlight this family is in, and it would have been devastating for me.

Without sharing my history, I posted on Facebook my disappointment in peoples' reactions and simply wrote that it was fortunate we don't all have to air what goes on behind closed doors... it isn't always pretty.


It's Saturday morning. My least favorite day of the week. We switch off being at my Mom's and my Granny's every other weekend. It's an arrangement my parents made when they got divorced. This weekend we are at Mom's... at "Home." Technically, my dad is suppose to have us every other weekend instead of my Granny. But my dad has never been around. 

He is currently living in California, or is it Colorado? I can't keep up. He is a civilian working for the Airforce and moves frequently. I rarely see him unless he has driven his red truck to Granny's for a couple of days with bags full of laundry he hasn't done. Granny dutifully washes and folds his clothes. Dad sleeps. He takes off not long after, and Granny cries as she watches him drive away. He often calls her, and sometimes I get to talk to him. He never calls me at my home.

Granny has a black rotary dial phone that is in a fixed spot on her dining room table. Her dining room table is in the living room since she doesn't have a dining room. A hard wooden chair sits at the end of the table, and if you want to use the phone, you are stuck at that location... in the living room for everyone to hear anything you might say. But I love the phone. I love dialing a number and listening to it click as it rotates back to it's original position. I love winding my finger in the cord and the sound of the crisp voices on the other end.

"Do you accept a collect call from..." a recording begins. 

Dad chimes in... "Dwayne Henderson."

"Yes." I always reply. I don't know what would happen if I ever were to say, "No." 

Dad would later brag to me about the salary he made at the Airforce. At one point he would make up towards $50 an hour. Why he calls collect to my Granny who works as a librarian at the university makes no sense to me. Her salary must be so much smaller.

He will quickly ask me about school, but I can tell he doesn't listen to much of what I say. He inserts, "That's nice, hon," at the wrong pauses in conversation. Finally he will be bored of my jabbering and say, "Hey, hon... this call is collect. Can I talk to Mama?" So I tell him I love him and miss him. He repeats the same. Though, he has the power to visit me, and I don't have the power to make such arrangements. Often I will go a couple of years without seeing his face. Sometimes I will see him two to three times in a year. He can't miss me all that much.

After my Granny died, I find a drawer full of cards we hand drew for my Dad. Letters and sketches, even poems we had created for him. In the same drawer I find birthday cards to us signed by my Granny, my Uncle Bruce and my Dad. Always signed, Love, Dad. Until that day it never dawned on me that it was impossible for my dad to sign those birthday cards. Doubtful that he sent them from Alaska, Colorado or California for my Granny and Bruce to attach their names. It breaks my heart that Granny worked so hard to fill in that gap and with our best interests at heart, fooled us into thinking Dad remembered our birthdays. I crack a smile that she also hid away all of these pictures we drew while we were missing him. As children we imagined they were on his fridge wherever he was living. I believed in my heart that he missed us and looked forward to these tokens of our love. But Granny was the one collecting them. They were precious to her. When Dad "goes through" her home after her death, they will be among the first of the things shoved in black trash bags. 

"Mama kept everything," he grumbles while emptying drawers. And while it stings, I am so blessed to have someone who loved me enough to keep those things.

But today, I am not at Granny's. I am at 2613. And it is one of those Saturdays. My mom has decided it's a cleaning Saturday. She sits on her bed drawing immaculate sketches of where things should go. She pulls out a ruler and spends hours drawing the interiors of cabinetry and closets. She labels little diagrams of where plates and glasses should reside. She draws everything in detail with crisp printed letters assigning the positions of where items are intended to be. She spends so much time doing this, but she can't make herself put the things where she has them labeled.

She assigns each of us a room. We always have the same assignments. I have the kitchen. My brother, the living area. My sister has the smallest, but equally as nasty of a room, the bathroom. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to have paper towels to try and wipe down surfaces. Sometimes, we have only toilet paper folded into tiny squares that we soak with water to try and scrub. That always ends up more of a mess than anything because they crumble as you work. Today we have paper towels and large black trash bags that are really for yard waste. They are great though because they are thicker and larger than normal bags. 

I gather disgusting dishes that have been sitting for months, maybe even for years. Some have dried food plastered to them. Others are filled with mouse droppings. I particularly hate our coffee mugs. They have tinted residue at the bottom filled with small roaches that met their doom being stuck in sticky goo. Often, they, too, have mouse droppings. I hate the kitchen because when I disturb anything, gnats fly in my face. They are such a nuisance always seeming to float directly in your face as opposed to buzzing around. Sometimes I find maggots as I lift decaying bags of food from the counter tops. Flies of all sizes crawl and fly around me, annoyed that I have destroyed their hiding places. I wish I had gloves. I cringe and gag as I add things to trash bags. The smell is overwhelming. I am so disgusted and miserable.

The wind howls outside. To this day, I dread the sound of wind whistling through cracks in windows. It still makes me stomach sick and reminds me of my depressed mother.

Mom stands at the sink in the kitchen. She has yellow gloves, so I am envious. She is scrubbing dishes. The sink sits below a window, but the shades are drawn tight. No one can see inside, so windows are all covered by blinds or curtains. Natural sunlight cannot filter through. I wonder if the house would be less miserable if sunlight was allowed to shine through.

"Cleaning days" were formerly more enjoyable. Mom would crank her stereo with 80's country music or Neal Diamond. None of these were my type music, but my mom would smile and act goofy as my sister and I would dance around to my mom's favorites. That was during a time when after a few hours there would be carpet space, and we were allowed to play afterward. 

Today there is no music or smiles. Only the wind howls as my mom stares blankly toward a window that she can't see through. 

Several hours later we have many large bags filled with trash. We stack them in their perspective corners throughout the house on top of other black bags from cleaning days past. I'm not sure why we can't carry them out. We spent so much time filling them. But they just pile in corners, only to be ripped apart in a few days by dogs or mice. Their contents will be dragged out throughout the house, and the entire day will have been for nothing.

It's 2 pm, and my stomach aches. I am hungry. We have no food in the house. There is no where we can store it. Mice and bugs scavenge the pantries. Our refrigerator does not work. The thought of eating off of these plates that I just piled for my mom repulses me. Even if she washes them, they can never be clean enough. 

We always eat fast food or get food from the convenience store. Mom is needing a coke, so she loads us up to take us to the convenience store twelve blocks away. We each get a fountain drink and get to pick something for our indoor "picnic." I am annoyed that Mom has tried to make this a fun thing. It's not a picnic. I pick sweet pickles. My sister snags some Longhorn cheese and olives. My brother grabs a bag of chips. Mom has picked a loaf of bread. 

My brother has cleaned enough of the living room floor so that we can all sit together and eat. Mom takes off to her room. We eat as many of the treats as we can because we know without refrigeration the items will not keep until tomorrow. After we finish, I take the remainder of the loaf of bread and tack it to my bedroom wall. The mice cannot reach it when I put it directly on the wall. There is nothing for them to climb to access it. Sometimes, when we are hungry, we will snack on a few slices each with nothing else to eat. Often the bread will go bad too quickly, and the gnats will have already found their way inside.

After our late lunch I go to Mom's room. "What do you want?" she asks, sucking on a cigarette. 

"Nothing," I say. I don't know what I want. I guess I want for her to just acknowledge me or talk to me. She flicks her ashes in a coke can. Even though she is in the same room, she is so far away.

"Go call your Granny and see if she wants y'all to come over."

I can't hide my enthusiasm, and my mom slightly flickers with pain and anger at my eagerness to leave. She doesn't want to deal with us, and I don't want to be there. She always feels like I am making a choice to love my Granny more, but I don't. I don't have any choices anyway. I just want to be somewhere else and with someone who acknowledges me.

"Granny, Mom said we could come over. Can Bruce come get us?" I spit out as fast as I can once Granny picks up the phone. She is on her way, and I am glad I get a night without the mice.

I can't disguise my smile as I run to my mom's room. "They're on the way!!" I rejoice. Mom stares into nothing, puffing on her cigarette. "Then go pack a bag."

Maybe this Saturday isn't so bad after all.