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October 17, 2014 | Nonfiction

Hoarding

Steve Anwyll

Hoarding photo

A few weeks ago my wife told that I have some mild hoarding tendencies.

She said she was sick of it. The thousands of marijuana roaches I'll never smoke. All the goddamned books lying around.

Then there are the scraps of paper. Ones that have no information. I keep them around solely because I like the feel of them. It's comforting.

'If I didn’t walk around behind you picking up' she said 'then we'd be drowning in your shit.'

And sure. I might have a problem. A deviant aversion to garbage cans. It's something I can admit. But still. I was offended.

The only argument I could make was weak. I told her it was far worse when I was younger.

I told her I remember taking a sandwich. Half eaten. That had begun to taste strange to me. And placing it in the back of my bedroom closet. With other remnants.

Because it felt right.

My wife looked at me repulsed.

So I decided I'd stop there. And keep to myself how I used to stuff banana peels. Empty soda cans. Half eaten pizza pockets deep down into the cushions of my parents’ couch.

To me it was bottomless pit. You could yell in and no echo would return.

But for my stepmother it was nightmare. Her arms elbow deep. Her face bright red. Her voice at top volume. Scream asking why?

Something about her anger made me happy. So I'd stand there. Hanging my head. Telling her it wasn't me.

Instead I calmed my wife. By telling her easier stories.

Ones that didn’t involve me and a collection of rotting food under the neighbors’ spruce tree. Stories where I wasn't the culprit. Only an accomplice.

Like about a family that I knew. When I was a kid. They lived down the street from me. The Danburys.

The parents were a couple of middle-aged overweight hippies. Some of the worst kind too. They'd taken the spirit of the sixties and focused it all on Christianity.

They had two older daughter. Janet and Louise. Both of them studious. And plain.

Janet had large swinging tits beneath her baggy stained t-shirts. Yet she had the appeal of an old woman.

Louise was lean. No shape to her. And walked around like she was the hottest piece of shit in town. I hated her arrogance.

Around the time I was thirteen the Danburys took in another girl. A few years older.

They said she grew up a few blocks away. And across a field. But I'd never seen her before.

She was gorgeous. I still think about her. And her perfect skin. The way her smile. Stretched across her face.

I devised plans I'd never follow through with of catching her naked.

I was far too pathetic though.

But the reason I went over there was because they had a boy about the same age as me. Kevin. He was brainwashed. Would give other kids baptisms. Save their souls.

He had shaggy blonde hair. A body best described as husky. He treated me like garbage.

Would make me pretend that we were strangers if there were girls around.

To me though. It was better than being at home. And I had my problems when I came to making friends.

So I put up with it.

At first I didn’t notice a difference. Between the families. When I was a kid the house was the same as anyone else's I'd been in. Just dirtier.

A fact my stepmother cleared up.

'It’s cause they’re poor.' She'd say after a glass of wine or five. A scowl on her face.

My stepmother's idea of success was evidenced by cleanliness.

And I knew better than to disagree.

But as the years went by the Danburys house started to fill. While ours stayed the same.

Their hose grew darker. Closing in on itself. The windows being blocked out. A thick layer of dust turned everything grey.

The house began to feel like a funeral parlor.

And then one day there wasn't much space left at all.

Except for the path.

It greeted you at the front door. Gave you a first-class tour of the place. All you could do was follow. Hope that you made it out the other end.

The first room in the house was a closed in porch. Stacked with boxes. A small kiln.

When we were kids I remember the mom working at the kiln. Or going into the large freezer in the corner. Taking something out for the night’s dinner.

But over time the kiln disappeared. So did the freezer. The only evidence of it ever being there a faint hum under all the boxes and bags. Coolers filled with clay.

I always wondered. Did they get all the food out before it was too late? Or was it still in there? Now solid blocks of ice.

The porch took about three steps to cross. And the path took two directions. Deeper through the main level. Or up the stairs.

The stairs weren't easy. A few of them were broken. Never fixed. Through the gaps you could see clear into the basement.

I tried to avoid going up. The last thing I needed was a false step. Broken bones. But from time to time I had to use the bathroom.

At home things were put away. My stepmother spent her time cleaning. Emptying wine boxes. Then throwing them out.

Upstairs everything the Danburys had exploded from bedrooms and into the halls. The doors to every room unable to close. Even the bathroom.

Which was filthy. And the same towels always hung in the same place. In the same roughed manner. They always looked wet.

Walking around up there. Alone. I had the fear. That nothing that came up here ever got out.

So I would run. Soar over the broken steps. Afraid the place would claim me.

At the bottom of the stairs you could take a left. Follow the path past the parents’ bedroom. Into the kitchen. And out through the back of the house.

Happy to have made it.

Or there was an old set of French doors. Draped with soiled clothing. Paint chipping. Leading into the living room. Which had been cut in half. With a stained sheet.

On the other side of which the parents slept.

When I was kid the whole double room was the sitting area.  But as the halls filled up. And the kids got bigger. The parents moved down here.

And started to be seen around a lot less.

I try and think about the mother. What she looked like. All I get is a blur. Like a grainy video of a tribal bushman running through the Amazon.

I see glasses. Brown straight hair. A frumpy shape.

The father was a giant man. Tall and fat. Long dark beard. A religious freak. But there was something phony about him. Like beneath all the love there was long dark hole filled with hate.

So I tried to avoid him when he was around.

As a child I remember them both being kind for the most part. They didn’t swear or drink. Dished out hugs to their children. Praised the lord.

Which was weird I thought.

At home things weren't like this. No hugs. No I love you's. No vengeful lord. No bulging boxes to the ceiling.

So it wasn't all bad.

Sometimes we'd sit in the cramped living room. Watch shitty dubbed VHS tapes. Third rate movies tapped from television.

Revenge Of The Nerds II: Nerds In Paradise. Friday the 13th Part VIII: The New Blood. Weekend At Bernie's.

Even today. If I watch any film from those days. I'm instantly taken back to that damp couch.

Surrounded by shelves of balled up clothing. Legal boxes full of coat hangers. And a layer of dog hair so thick it obscured the carpet.

On the other side of the sheet. Where the parents slept. Was the absolute worst room in the house.

If I saw the little double bed it was over for me. I'd start to imagine the parents. Their enormous bodies. Sweating through stained underwear. And white sheets gone grey.

Most of the time I was in the house was spent in the kitchen. As we got older Kevin would invite me over. Then stand at the sink. Talking on the family’s only phone for hours.

Trying to get into some girl’s pants. Which never worked for him.

So I'd sit at the table. Only two or three spots cleared away. Thinking the whole family couldn't even eat at once. They must do it in shifts.

The table was pushed up against the wall. The other chairs hosting piles of outdated calendars. Mittens.

The cupboards were always open a little. Empty boxes stuck out. Old mason jars gone opaque. One shelf dedicated solely to vintage newspapers.

Their home was victim to hundreds of flies. And above the table, half a dozen flypapers hung. Turned black with the dead. Swinging in the breeze. Threatening to fall.

Walking through the kitchen the path curved around the table. There was door to the basement. But it was beyond help. Only Louise was thin enough to squeeze through and change the fuses.

So you walked out through the screened in porch. Which was big. Filled with towers of magazines. Broken lawn furniture. Tightly packed garbage bags tied shut. Their contents a mystery.

And in the middle of it all. A large pile of rusting bicycles from the ‘70s.

In the driveway was an old rotting VW minibus. A remnant from the parents’ days as free-wheeling degenerates. Roaming the countryside. Spreading peace and love.

And body lice.

But those days were long gone. The minibus passed its prime. The only free love going on in there anymore was the hordes of spiders. Producing generations of others.

And never looking back.

Kevin used to say. With confidence. That when he was sixteen. He was going to get the money together. Take the decades worth of his parents' tax returns from the minibus. And fix the old piece of shit up.

But I never believed him. It was just as likely as the stairs getting fixed. Sixteen came and went. The old VW kept on rotting.

When we were teenagers. We were on his back step. Smoking cigarettes. His family was all out. We had the dump to ourselves.

Beside us. Resting on the top of a dented aluminum trashcan was plastic grocery bag. The supermarket’s name still legible on the side. I asked what was in it.

Kevin looked up. Exhaled. And without flinching said 'oh…just some pigeons.'

It was small town. There weren't any pigeons.

After that I told my wife about when my folks told me to get lost. That it wasn't working out.

At the ripe old age of sixteen I didn’t have a lot of options. One of my friends was an orphan of sorts. Kept afloat by a religious charity.

He'd rented half a duplex. Down by the beach. It had two floors. A real massive affair. He was revered by everyone. He had what we all wanted.

Freedom.

So I looked to him for help. He was happy to split the rent.

The place had three bedrooms. They were on the second floor. Up a thin staircase. But he didn’t use any of them. At least not for sleeping.

When I moved in he'd already filled them with all kinds of shit. You couldn’t even walk in any of them. The floors covered. Junk waist height. The lights didn’t work.

Shadows danced in the back corners.

I could see exploded boxes. Newsprint and magazines. Plastic bags stuffed with stuffed animals. Pop cans. Strings of lights. Mountains of Styrofoam.

A collection of stained children-sized mattresses.

This was my new home.

One of the rooms was host to several artificial Christmas trees.

I wanted to chalk it up to him really loving the holiday season. But he made it hard. With all the garbage on the ground. Scattered like shitty presents.

So I asked him. ' What's with all the fucking trees. man?'

We were standing shoulder-to-shoulder. On the room's edge. The only answer he could muster was a shrug. And a far off look in his eyes.

So I left I at that. Went along for the ride.

Since the bedrooms were filled we slept on couches. In the living room. Surrounded by the normal garbage generated by free run teenagers.

Empty pop bottles. Cigarette packs. Pizza boxes. Booze bottles.

In the middle of the living room was a coffee table. I knew that somewhere. In the middle. Was an ashtray. But it was hidden. Under a mountain of ash.

All I could do was try and get my butts close. Hope we didn’t wake up to a fire.

He had dishes. But they were filthy. And I wasn’t about to start cleaning. We ate off of pieces cut from pizza boxes. Made glasses from the bottoms of plastic soda bottles.

Our problem was none of the trash ever made it out of the house. I lived there for four months. I never once saw a garbage can.

Instead. Our method. If we ever got industrious. Was to fill garbage bags to the bursting point. Pile them up around the house. We had a back room that filled up first.

Broken bottles would often rip through. Causing an avalanche.

After that. All we could do was give in.

The refuse started to pile up. A path started to form. The place began to get smaller. I should've seen it coming.

The counter tops in the kitchen were never cleared. They disappeared under molding dishes. The sink overflowed. We couldn’t get close enough to give a shit. The path only went to the fridge

Which we barely used. All I can ever remember being in there was a plastic jug of milk. Long gone off. Bulging out with gas.

Then the path veered off to the right . To the bathroom. A closet really. The door folded and slid shut. My knees hit the sink when I shit.

We decided to move out. Had big dreams. Were sick of hitchhiking to get to school. Rented a place in next town over. A city big enough to have a high school.

The only things I owned were a couple changes of clothes. And the backpack I kept them in. My roommate abandoned everything.

When we locked the door for the last time I was happy my name didn’t appear on the lease.

image: Jac Jemc


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