Hmmm, today’s writing 101 prompt kind of stumped me. Here’s the bare bones blurb:
We all have anxieties, worries, and fears. What are you scared of? Address one of your worst fears.
Today’s twist: Write this post in a distinct style from your own.
I have to say, I would’ve worded that last sentence differently…I would’ve said either “Write this post in a distinct style, different from your regular one,” or “Write this post in a style distinct from your usual style.” There was a little confusion when comparing voice and style, and I discovered upon further research that voice is your own personality shining through, whereas style is a broader concept–are you prone to writing ornate sentences or more sparse? Are your words flowery or straightforward? Choosing a particular style and sticking with it can give coherence and continuity to a piece, can help the reader feel like they have a better handle on what is being said. Ah, whatever–can’t escape from my own voice, don’t think I want to–but style, geez…uh…style…uh…what is my regular style? Yikes. I’m overthinking. Whatever, whatever, I do what I want, I do what I want.
Anyway, what am I scared of? If I stop and think, I’m afraid of many things. One of my worst fears is that I’m just as bad a hoarder as my dad, and I’ll end up like he is. Here goes…
It’s getting worse. My mother has been home for two weeks, and every so often she relays bits and pieces of information to us about the state of my parents’ house.
“There wasn’t room for my suitcase. We had to leave it in the narrow walkway he has left in the kitchen and move it when we had to get around it.”
I rarely go there; there’s no room for my kids or me to just come and visit. There are boxes on the kitchen table, no room for a meal, no space to sit, even the sofa has boxes piled on it. My children–their grandchildren–have never been inside their house.
“July 1, I’m outta there,” my mother tells us. I wonder when my dad will be buried alive.
A couple of years ago I contacted the show Hoarders because I was curious to see if they would do an episode about my parents’ house. I thought they might be able to help, given their budget and their resources. I filled out the questionnaire on the Hoarders website and was contacted a few days later by a woman who works on the show. She asked me for some pictures, and I obliged.
Cliff and our baby daughter distracted my dad enough for me to walk through the house with my iPhone snapping shots of the tiles falling out of the bathroom walls, how he has used packing tape on some of the tiles around the shower to hold them together, the mildew growing underneath the packing tape. I took pictures of the kitchen table piled high with bags and boxes, envelopes, empty vitamin bottles, old circulars, random electrical wires, tools. The kitchen counters with no space for food preparation.
I announced that I was going upstairs to my old room to fetch an old book of mine, and on my way there I snapped shots of my parents’ bedroom, the ceiling held up with a long slab of styrofoam affixed with tin can lids and nails placed at regular intervals; the familiar floor to ceiling bookshelves with pens, slips of papers, and plastic bags peeking out from the books, multiple bungee cords hanging from the shelving brackets, and all of this reflected in my mother’s dresser mirror, as if to double the cluttery hell.
I continued capturing images through the living room on my way to the stairs. The whole house had a cavelike quality to it–musty, dark, heavy. Could barely see the sofa around the wall of boxes, old computers from the 90’s, trash bags full of more plastic vitamin bottles. We used to play in here. We used to have slumber parties. Take naps on the sofa. No room now.
I found the book upstairs, dared to take pictures of our old bedrooms where the evidence of my father’s sickness had stretched its tendrils in ever widening circles. Some of my sister’s stuff was there, and I wondered what I had left in my closet; impossible to get to it now–my father had commandeered my old room and it contained floor to ceiling stacks of old computer equipment from the 80’s and 90’s. He had told us he would donate the computers to schools. Practically nobody could use them now. What are they doing here?
When my sisters and I lived there, when he was still working, when my mom and dad had moments of togetherness that they actually enjoyed, our house was livable, welcoming even. It was never normal. No, it was never your run of the mill middle class abode–it was always kind of cooky although I didn’t realize the extent of the craziness until well after I left home.
The pictures taken, I immediately emailed them to the woman on the TV show, and within days she said that they would certainly be interested in filming an episode of the show at my parents’ house, but that they would need my dad’s cooperation, his consent. I knew deep down he would never agree, but we were all outwardly hopeful. My husband and I made a DVD of several episodes of Hoarders, gave the DVD to my mom to show my dad.
She later told me that he watched part of an episode, then turned to her and said, “I am nothing like these people, and don’t you ever try to do something like this to me.” And there you have it, the man wouldn’t budge. I never told him of my plan.
These days, when I take a look around my house, I see evidence of what I grew up with in the miniature piles of random bits on the counter–my daughter’s hair things, a pair of sunglasses, unopened mail. These are normal things; we use them…but the sight of them makes me wonder where we’ll draw the line.
I go downstairs to put in a load of wash. I see boxes of books, many of them holding the journals that i’ve been keeping since middle school. They seem so heavy to me. The climbing gear that I haven’t touched in years because we live in Maryland. There isn’t any rock to speak of in Maryland. And I have two kids. And they aren’t of climbing age yet anyway. The dust has settled on my hangboard, my climbing shoes, my quick draws, my long board, my helmet and kneepads and elbow pads and wrist guards. I see my beautiful fluorescent green cyclocross bike hanging upside down, suspended from hooks in the ceiling. I feel wistful. And Aren’s baby clothes, a few old hats, my sewing supplies, moved downstairs because there was no room in the dining room for them. Lots of beautiful fabric, just sitting there. My Christmas serger, which I haven’t yet learned how to use, because I have an overfull schedule and time simply does not permit.
So I see my father in myself–all of those things he has but never uses–and I wonder if I am him. There is a sense of deep terror, wanting to get out, break free, wanting so much to reclaim some space in my life, but wondering if I have been permanently broken by this compulsion to accumulate.
I pray to God that I will never reach the same level of mental illness…but then I wonder if I haven’t already reached that level, but it has become so normal to me that I don’t question it.
Save me from my Father. Same me from this fear of letting go. Save me from the oppression, the burdens, the resentment, the sadness.
I write a poem a day–
That’s what I do.
can I be free now that I have written a few lines,
can I sleep?
Can I succumb to the bone deep fatigue
and trust that all is well?
Eyelids are heavy.
Time for sleep.