I am addicted to that show “Hoarders.” The lady who poops in adult diapers, and then tosses them into her kitchen; the couple where the man’s a shut-in with over a hundred guns that he threatens to shoot at the woman, the lady who has goats eating a hole in her house – these are just a few examples of the colorful characters that fill my Monday night after-dinner sake and chocolate chip time. It’s great television, to be sure, and I’d be compelled to watch it even if I had no connection with hoarding at all. But my mother is what those in the business, like organizational expert Geralin Thomas, would call a hoarder.
But Mom wasn’t always that way. When I was growing up, our various apartments were quite nicely appointed: cork lamps, a floating bar, a wicker étagère, decoupage planters – darling. To teach me that cleaning was important, Mom had assigned me chores: clean the kitchen, do my laundry, water the plants, keep all common areas clean hey, wait a minute, I was the maid!
One area I was thankfully never ordered to tidy up was her closet. No matter where we were, her closet was always a damned mess. I never went in there much after I found a Playgirl magazine and it scared the effing ess out of me.
Once, her closet was in such a state, it started to smell like rotted eggs. Mom blamed me, saying it was my Nair: you know, the stuff that feels like lotion but burns the hair off your legs and smells like rotted lotion? Hey, I was twelve, I was afraid of the blade. Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, of course: Mom blaming me. Well, weeks later when I was away visiting my grandparents, Mom decided to tackle that closet problem.
Turns out, a mouse had died in there: trapped under a hanger, under a shoe rack, under some clothes. Under a laundry basket.
But that didn’t seem like any big deal to me. Didn’t every twelve year-old have a mom who kept her stuff so messy that animals could waltz into it unnoticed? Once, around that time, I walked in on her and her boyfriend David having sex, but I didn’t realize it at the time, because just inside her doorway, there was an ironing board piled high with so much crap, I couldn’t see anything beyond it. It only dawned on me later what was really going on, because I caught them again. What? Didn’t every twelve-year-old walk in on their mothers having sex with their skeevy boyfriend fairly regularly? I say skeevy, but what I really mean is mustachioed.
So, over a decade later, it was certainly no surprise that Mom tripped over some of that closet-slash-bedroom crap and broke her ankle.
I worried about how this sudden turn of events would affect my Christmas visit from LA – at the time, I was working hard as a full-time temp, and I’d really looked forward to my unpaid R and R.
But, good news, Mom could move around pretty good in her cast. It had one of those rubber stoppers on the end so she could walk around without crutches. And even though she didn’t need to, she’d lock that leg and swing it around like Frankenstein as she walked, so as to make her limp look especially pronounced.
But then, bad news, in a parking lot of a Starbucks, Mom stepped her cast foot into a puddle. By the time we got to the building, the stopper had fallen off, making it impossible for her to walk on that foot.
With heavy dramatics we managed to get her back to the car. On our way home, she decided that since she was scheduled to get the cast off in a couple of days anyway, she’d just cut the damned thing off herself. I thought she was joking – we were sometimes goofy like that. We used to call and order pizzas under silly names Stella Stagnasty and Suzie PopTart.
But, no, she was dead serious. She figured all she needed was to get the cast wet, then simply cut the softened plaster with a pair of scissors. Once home, we discovered the only scissors she had were those tiny curved ones she used to trim her false eyelashes. Still, the plan was a go.
She had me help her to the bathtub. I then made a quick exit, to show my complete and utter lack of support.
I went into the living room and tried desperately to get invested in an episode of “Ready, Set, Cook.” But it was impossible to hear the speed-cooking over Mom’s grunt-breathing and moan-wailing.
Her wild anger reaching a fever pitch, Mom started yelling her favorite obscenity string, which was this: “Goddammuthfuckcockbitesonbitch.” It was always those words in that order, that rhythm, over and over: “Goddammuthfuckcockbitesonbitch, goddammuthfuckcockbitesonbitch.” God damn, I get. Muthfuck, get. Sumbitch, sure. But ‘cock bite?’ Where did that come from? Maybe it was something they said in the seventies, like “jive turkey” or “pass me that Average White Band album.”
She yelled for me to come there. I found her lying in the tub, fully clothed and soaked, wig askew, with her cast leg propped up under a stream of running water. There was what I would call a fray in the wet cast. She had broken the scissors in two and was using the one scissor as a little saw working that fray. The cast had taken on a lot of water, and the toes that were poking out of it were pruning. Looking up at me like she was somehow the victim in all this, she asked me for help. I didn’t. But what was I supposed to do? I think she wanted me to do some yanking…? Pass.
I know this makes me sound heartless. Normally, I’m a super sensitive person: I cry every time at the end of “Working Girl” when Joan Cusack stands up and screams; when I saw Olivia Newton-John sing “Xanadu” live in concert, I cried so hard I had to wipe my nose on my clothes.
But this was a woman not super comfortable with taking responsibility for her actions. Once when I was a kid, after Mom got a speeding ticket, she went on and on about how the Fort Worth cops were clearly targeting single women.
She didn’t pick up the stuff in her closet, she stepped in the puddle and she came up with this wackadoodle plan. She had no one to blame but herself!
I turned indignantly, stepped over some crap, and went back into the living room. I called my dad and asked him to pick me up, that Mom did this crazy thing and I was trapped there.
I was remembering how he was the one who told me to take typing instead of teacher’s aide in high school; and, had I, I’d have been able to get the higher-paying temp gigs and could probably have afforded a rental car. So really… I had no one to blame but myself. Uch my own medicine tastes bitter.
Dad rolled up and I made my escape. To this day I do not know how Mom got out of that jam. But I do know that things started to get worse right around then, as she started to add the Home Shopping Network purchases and exercise equipment to her already dangerous mix of old clothes and Cracker Barrel gift shop chotchkes.
So, back to me, sitting in bed, sake decanter within arm’s reach, watching another Hoarder’s story (this one featuring Matt Paxton, my favorite of all the organizational experts – ‘cause he gives it to you straight, y’all!). I wonder if I, too, am accumulating more than I am throwing away. There are parts of my home that are cluttered and need attention: the pantry, my son Johnny’s closet, the garage, my nightstand – really any area in the house with a door or a drawer.
Is chronic disorganization in my DNA? Am I destined to become like my mother? She didn’t become a full-blown hoarder until she was my age. And I’ve already inherited her being startled easily by loud noises and the way she talks through gritted teeth when she sees something cute.
Here is where you come in: I’m launching a full-scale purge and de-clutter-ization of my own home, just like on the show. And you and this blog are going to help me! I have to nip this tendency of mine in the bud before it gets out of control and ruins my relationship with my son. I’m walking a fine line with him: sometimes I promise him raisins in the car when I know we don’t have any raisins.
First up, here’s something that’s among (amongst?) my closet clutter:
It is a homecoming mum from my junior year in high school. I went with my buddy Curt Tweed, who was smart enough to buy one with a silk flower instead of a real one. The blue ribbons have faded to purple. But it’s in pretty great shape.