Tuesday, March 31, 2009

hoarder

Linda sits on the porch surrounded by treasure. Bags and boxes, each filled with tiny bits of glass, broken china, old photos. There's a book about hoarding open on her lap and she's looking at the progression photos to find out where she fits in. We discussed hoarding on the phone this afternoon when she called my shop. I tell her I've got a problem with books and papers; if I didn't have a housekeeper, my house would have trails.

I'm joking but she runs with it. "Just like the Collyer brothers! Oh, they are the example to keep us going, aren't they? How dreadful, to die in one's home, buried beneath one's belongings." Her speech is measured and correct as she sits surrounded by garbage. I vaguely remember two elderly brothers in New York City found dead in their apartment, buried beneath mountains of clutter.

She's tracing through the book with two fingers, maintaining a running commentary about the Collyers and her own downfall. Image 1 is of a tidy house, no clutter, her dream. Image 2 shows a lot of stuff about, but it's easily walkable. Her fingers stroke lightly across the photos, landing on number 9. She lifts the book, holding it close to examine every corner, every concealed table top in the image. Is her house this bad? Is it worse?

Her father was at Iwo Jima in World War II, his prized possession a large framed newspaper photo of the planting of the flag at Iwo, dated 1945. The once beautiful art deco frame surrounding the faded newsprint is flaking away. Rain and weather have damaged it beyond repair. Linda is proud of her father, thinks her brother might want the picture. "Isn't it something? Do you think it's worth a lot?"

Digging through her woven Colombia bag, she offers a book, scrabbling through pages to find the dedication. "Emilia Rosita Ankasia, in memory of our beloved."

"My daughter," she says proudly, tapping the words with her fingers. "My grandmother was a great lady. She put my name on all of these things so I could have them when she left us. I don't know about antiques, what are they worth?"

I look at the Heisey cobalt bowl, the RS Prussia cream pitcher, the tankard from Germany. "Do you think I'll be able to make a thousand dollar donation to my daughter's hospice?" She holds up a shattered Royal Bayreuth vase, "If I glue it back, what could I get for it?"

It pains me to see her, surrounded by her treasures, so filled with hope. I can tell that the house is full too. The windows are covered, but not with blinds or shades. There are stacked boxes and bags pressing against the glass. Linda sees me looking and explains. "I was sick for so long and now I might have liver failure, but talking to you, it helped me. I got a gift for you. Well I didn't get it, but I thought of you because it's what you said."

She digs through the bags, the clink of glass on metal accompanying her burrowing fingers. A cheap blue mug tumbles out and shatters on the sidewalk. She cries out and gathers the pieces, trying to fit them back together with shaking fingers. "I know I can fix this, I got this for my daughter, she loved this shade of blue."

"What do you want for these things, Linda?" My heart actually aches standing here on this sidewalk, watching her touching her beloved objects, the treasures left from her grandmother, each one threaded to a memory.

"Oh, I have no idea, no idea! It's just that I'm overdrawn at the bank and I need to make a donation to hospice. I called my sister and told her about you coming. She asked if I would get the thousand dollars I wanted for the hospice donation and I said I just don't know, I don't know. What are they worth?"

I don't know what they're worth, except not much. I know furniture and I know collectibles like antique canes and potlids, compasses, opera glasses, eyecups. I don't know what these bits and pieces of old china are worth on the market. I know they're worth nothing close to what she expects.

She gazes up at me, long, salt and pepper hair framing her face, her faded brown eyes beseeching me to help her. I don't know what to say. I don't want these things. I wish I'd never agreed to come. I felt sorry for her, my downfall.

"Oh, here's the present I got for you. Well, you know, I had it, but it is what you said to me this afternoon on the phone." She digs and uncovers a motto plaque, a poorly done calligraphy of sentiment in a cheap frame.

"The Love You Give Will Come Back To You." I never said that, yet that's what it says, this thing she hands me. I can't refuse it. I can't refuse the sentiment. I take it from her hand and ask again what she wants for the three pieces standing in the muddy flower bed.

The question is distressing her. She's hugging herself, clasping and releasing her hands over and over, agitated. "I don't know, I just don't know." I decide to spit it out so I can escape. I can't save all of these people, I can't.

"Linda, if I were at auction and saw these pieces in a box lot, I wouldn't pay more than $20 for them."

"Oh nooooooooo! Oh no, I wouldn't dare part with them for that, they are worth so much more than that, I can't part with them. I don't even think I can let you have them at any price. I just can't let them go."

I'm moving to my car, saying all of the nice getaway things, "call me," "we'll talk again," "it was nice meeting you." But I only want to get back in my car so I can be free of this house of pain, of the clinging, grasping woman my age sitting on the front porch, surrounded by junk, by trash.

I crank up my music and open the sunroof, roll the windows down. The spring air washes me clean, blows away the last vestige of the desperation that passed between us. I swerve into a gas station, roll up next to a dumpster. I've got the plaque in my hand, this sad, trite motto from a woman I don't even know. "The Love You Give Will Come Back To You."

I want to throw it in the dumpster but I can't let go, I can't. That's the thing about these people, these injured, damaged souls who find me over and over. The intrusion is forever. A tiny part of me forever bound to the wounded one. I drop the plaque in the back seat and drive on.

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22 Comments:

Blogger David said...

I'm so happy you're posting these Lynette. I could totally hoard your writing.

March 31, 2009 10:25 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Every time I finish one of your short stories, I say WOW, or OMG...you not only paint a picture, but evoke emotions that knock me over! I also related to the "injured, damaged souls" that we are haunted by during our lifetime...for me it was 10 yrs. as a psych nurse. Thank God we're also bound to the wonderful people in our lives to balance it out!!!!!!!!!
But, girl, I think you have a book in your future! And don't forget, you can write from anywhere...like Mexico?

March 31, 2009 11:00 AM  
Anonymous ewe said...

That was hysterical. You dragged yourself feet first right into that one. And it sounds like it might not be the last time for you. I loved the image of you contemplating the dumpster. Probably cursing JUNK!!!!TRASH!!!!!!!!! LMAO. Instead you DROP the plaque in the back seat. SIGH. I think it is admirable you value your kindness toward others and THINGS like plaques now too. As far as hoarding goes, i do have a suggestion. Tell people to look through all the things they feel they cannot part with and give one important piece at a time away to someone they feel special towards. I bet you will end up with a house full of CRAP. LMAO. Thanks. I love to have a belly laughing experience at least once a day.

March 31, 2009 12:19 PM  
Blogger Dusty said...

Interesting and very sad how people become hoarders. Many times I think its a chemical imbalance and if they could get treatment, they would come back to us whole again.

I really am glad you are back to writing Lynette. ;)

March 31, 2009 12:34 PM  
Anonymous lynette said...

David, I'm so happy you're reading them. Thank you!!!

Chris, yes, from Mexico. It would be a dream to write little travel missives from Mexico, something.

Ewe, you are so funny. The dogs and the hog's head makes you sick, and this woman, who tugged at my heart makes you laugh. Vive la difference, yes?

Dusty, I think it's sad too. My niece has developed a serious problem. It came on after the loss of her one month old baby. I saw so many people like this when I was in child welfare. It is a terrible, awful affliction. And so many of the people caught up in the worst of it are intelligent, formerly functional, educated folks. Effective treatment is very, very, very hard to find. I could definitely be one. I have tendencies. I don't know that I'd go so far as to have paths, but I definitely do have a problem with paper and books and sometimes clothes. My mother hoarded paper egg cartons, rubber bands and bits of string. She kept her stash in a cupboard above the refrigerator. It was confined to that small space, but I often saw her open those cupboards just to look. Strange things the mind can do to us . . .

March 31, 2009 1:12 PM  
Anonymous ewe said...

Oh Lynette: i don't mean to diminish your feelings. I realize it is painful and it's my way of making light of it. Those are my issues. Your writing is always interesting to me.

March 31, 2009 1:46 PM  
Blogger David said...

I liked the use of repetition and you definitely captured the voice of this woman. Good work.

March 31, 2009 1:51 PM  
Blogger NewMe said...

AT the risk of repeating myself over and over: you are an incredible writer. I'm so glad to have found your blog.

We recently cleared out my late mother-in-law's apartment. Though it was quite neat, like many people, she kept a lot of junk. She also vastly over-valued her property. Had she been at the garage sale we held, she probably would have beaned people over the head rather than let her things go for a song.

It makes me think that I should start trying to weed out my own belongings before it's too late. I would hate for one of my kids to find the naked pictures of me that my boyfriend (not their dad!) took when I was about 20 years old. Or the picture of another boyfriend, naked in the bathtub with a huge hard-on, that I took myself.

Blush, blush...

March 31, 2009 2:00 PM  
Anonymous lynette said...

Ewe, you weren't diminishing, we just experienced it differently. I wrote this last night when she was fresh in my mind. I met with her as I was going to the airport to pick up a customer. Oddly (or maybe not so), he's another hoarder. I took him to his hotel and this morning when I picked him up, he came out carrying five newspapers and a baggie (looked like it came out of the bathroom trashcan) full of foam plates, stir sticks, artificial sweetener, powdered creamer. There's a 24' truck sitting in front of my warehouse and we're loading it up with stuff he's bought over the last year. I'm surrounded by hoarders.

David, thanks for reading. It means a lot to me.

NewMe . . . .it's funny you'd mention the naked pictures. A gay friend of mine died and he'd made us all swear that we'd clear out his house before anyone in his family got there. There were three of us one night gathering up his indiscreet photos and publications :-) I never got any hard-on photos, but there are a few I do wish I'd taken snapshots of back in the day.

March 31, 2009 3:46 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

YOu don't have to write about only Mexico, in Mexico...you can write what you are writing now, and more....And I still think you should take all of your best short stories and publish them! It would be one damn good read!

March 31, 2009 5:13 PM  
Anonymous Michele said...

I too am so glad you are writing and posting more often. You really make me think and your words sing. Thanks Ms. Lynette.

March 31, 2009 9:06 PM  
Anonymous Trixx said...

I love love love your writing! This 30 day assignment is like candy for me. Each day I hold off rushing to your blog until I chop down my own priority list -- even the stuff I gotta do, but don't like doing. My sweet reward is savouring your stories and learning more about Betty and David and all the other lost and not-so-lost souls who cross your path. Lynnette - you have an amazing gift. I hope you enjoy sharing it with us as much as we thrill to reading it.

April 01, 2009 12:36 PM  
Anonymous kent - okc said...

Your writings touch us all in unique and individual ways. Your empathy and compassion are admired by more than you may recognize. Your stories have a lot of similarities of Joe mY god when he posts his stories. Thank you for sharing your insight.

April 01, 2009 3:22 PM  
Blogger BigAssBelle said...

Chris ~ I don't know that there's much of a market for an ordinary woman's ramblings :-) I could write about cooking, though, or the Mexican markets, that sort of thing. I don't know . . . gotta have dreams, eh?

Michelle ~ thank you for visiting. I really appreciate it and I'm glad you hear something singing in all of this :-)

Trixx ~ Thank you for your enthusiasm and your kind words; means a lot to me, truly.

Kent ~ You're very kind. I can't imagine writing like Joe. By the way, isn't it long past time for a story over there? I may need to jump on him about that. I think we were supposed to get regular Saturday stories . . .

April 01, 2009 7:03 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

You sell yourself short Net!

April 01, 2009 9:47 PM  
Blogger more cowbell said...

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April 02, 2009 6:51 PM  
Blogger more cowbell said...

Ditto a few others here - would buy your book in a heartbeat, and I only click here if I have time to actually sit down and savor it. I can never rush through your posts because they usually take me somewhere, and I can't just hop on to the next thing easily.

My paternal grandma is a horder. She doesn't actually spend much time in her house. My father, her only son, swears he's going to order one of those dumpsters hire someone to just gut the place after she passes on.

April 02, 2009 6:53 PM  
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August 22, 2009 10:22 AM  
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August 23, 2009 9:20 AM  
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August 25, 2009 10:15 AM  
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August 27, 2009 9:32 AM  
Anonymous Lee Ann said...

I didn't know you were a writer!! This is very, very good stuff. Am a new fan, for sure.

March 23, 2013 11:55 AM  

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