Dreary days

Today is the fourth dreary and rainy (or some form of precipitation) day in a row. I’m feeling it to the deepest part of my core; the cold, the dark, being locked inside not able to get out and find the light. There is so much trouble in the world, so much trouble in the people that surround me. It never seems to end. It is heavy, denser than the fog.

Yesterday Paul and I stopped at my parent’s house before going out to eat with Matt for his birthday. It is something I have to prepare myself for like wearing a winter coat on a cold day even if it looks like it could be sunny and warm. I will be triggered. It will be hard. Sometimes I ask Arabella what it is like living with my parents. From the sounds of it, not much has changed. My dad roams the house in his underwear. My mom cleans up his messes.

Then there is Matt. Matt can not do complex tasks like washing the dishes, but he can do simple tasks. When Matt is home, my dad has Matt wait on him hand and foot. Matt go get me a cookie. Matt get me some water. Matt hand me my remote. My mom tells my dad that Matt is not his servant. Then mom gives Matt permission to wait on my dad to feel like she is in control. I don’t miss the games, the power struggle between my parents.

The visit home was uncomfortable. Paul said he really doesn’t want to go back again. I don’t either. My parents complain Arabella is messy. She is, yet they fail to notice the own mess they live in. My mom wants Arabella to leave, even if it means moving to an apartment with a boyfriend she has been dating a few months. Before my dad’s crime, my mom would’ve been aghast to the idea. But now there aren’t any morals anymore.

They are all hard to live with. But what’s even harder is to see some of their very own struggles manifested within my children.

That’s one thing we never thought of before having kids. I just looked at the autism in my brother; the violence, the voices in his head telling him to hurt someone. Maybe we didn’t examine our parents enough; their relationships, their modeling, their own mental health. Then add a random bio dad to the smorgasbord of genetic maelstrom. All I can say, as if it’s any consolation, at least what we are seeing passed down is not entirely foreign to us.

It is sad. Sometimes I feel like crying with the rain as it pours down.

One of the most important things I’ve learned over the last couple of years is acceptance. That doesn’t mean I will accept poor behavior. It means it is what it is. I am not going to be able to change things. An apple is an apple even if I want it to be an orange. It also means being mindful of triggers. A visit to my parents house may cause me to feel depressed, anxious, or even angry. If I can prepare myself in advance for the possibility of those feelings, it doesn’t hit me so hard.

Today, though, I just feel tired and blah. Under the weather I guess. It seems hard to focus and form thoughts into words that make any sense right now. This post did not go where I was expecting it to go, but that is okay. I can accept that as well, I guess.

There is no warm up in sight. The weather forecasters are saying it should be warm and sunny, spring like on April 1st. What a joke!

More on meaningless tasks..

Perhaps I misspoke a couple days ago saying cleaning the house is a meaningless task. Sometimes it seems to be a waste of time for as much joy as I get out of it. Don’t get me wrong, I by nature veer closer to being a clean freak even more so coming from a family of hoarders.

I don’t like how clutter and messes make me feel. But I don’t necessarily like all the time I need to invest to keep the house as clean as I like.

I spent the last couple of days helping Angel clean her new house. When we sold our house a couple years back, we had the whole house repainted and the carpets professionally scrubbed. We updated the light fixtures. In today’s market, it is not necessary to even clean the house or update it in any way before trying to sell it. They bid over the asking price and waived the appraisal and inspection. All this because they were getting sick of people asking if they were going to continue to live separately with their parents after they got married. In all honesty, it’s what they had to do if they wanted a chance to get a house.

So the other night, I spent a couple hours cleaning the bathrooms at their house. It was disgusting. All I can say is that the lady must have had a long hair black dog she showered with. Everything was dingy and dirty. The sinks still had toothpaste in them. In fact, I was disheartened and overwhelmed when I first saw the house at how dirty it was and how much needed to be done before moving in.

It was then I realized cleaning is not a meaningless task. (I also realized I couldn’t clean other peoples homes for a living). Because if you don’t clean up after yourself, eventually someone else is going to have to do it or you have to do it and it will be horrible.

I also thought about my parent’s house. Some day we will have one hell of a time cleaning the place out. If they collectively spent one hour a week cleaning since they got married, I wouldn’t feel this overwhelming urge to light a match and walk away from it when they are gone.

At times it may feel like a waste of time to clean, but it will really help save time in the long run. It’s easier to maintain a fairly clean house than to dig yourself out later.

Too bad the house doesn’t clean itself. I thought we were supposed to have robots that do everything for us by now. The future I thought we would have as a kid is at times rather disappointing. Ahhhh, oh well. Time to go paint.

The full story…coming soon

I got invited into the popular group once in middle school. They gave me a handful of candy. I threw it away.

I could never bring them to my house anyway. The outside of the house was brick, big and beautiful. But inside was another story altogether. I couldn’t do slumber parties and sleepovers.

My dad roamed the house in his underwear. He answered the door that way. On occasion, he mowed the lawn that way. Sometimes he would even get the mail that way. The truth is that he was more interested in porn than his own wife and kids. He never hugged me, held me, or told me that everything would be okay. Maybe it was a good thing he had an aversion to touching me.

Our house was a hoarder’s paradise. Piles of magazines and papers littered all seating surfaces, our table, and floors. My mom hoarded food so there was always rotting food in the fridge. There were cupboards full of food, a fruit cellar, freezer upon freezer, refrigerator upon refrigerator. But we knew the newest food was always in bags on the dining room floor. There was always a stack of unwashed dishes on the counter full of you guessed it rotten food. The whiff of rot hit you as soon as you entered the door.

If that wasn’t bad enough, there was always pee on the bathroom floor and a dirty sink. My dad was a greasy guy in more ways than one. He rarely showered and criticized us for showering daily as if we were the strange ones. My dad didn’t brush his teeth but wiped them on the hand towel so I always had to strategically plan where to dry my hands in a spot I thought would be the cleanest. I don’t know how I ever survived the 8th grade hand washing compulsion.

Then there was my brother Matt. He was the school ‘retard’. That’s what my classmates called him anyway as they mocked his bizarre behaviors. He heard voices that told him to attack other children and he listened. He ruled our house and my mother bowed down to him. Anything for Matt. Never mind her three other kids.

We had crazy rules to live by for the sake of Matt. For example, no one could come into our house that was wearing perfume. That is why you could find me before middle school started ratting my hair in the middle school bathroom along with the girls that changed their clothes into outfits not allowed out of the house. My unscented hairspray had too much scent. For awhile we had to brush our teeth with peroxide and baking soda. We had to shut the windows if there was an east wind blowing auto exhaust fumes into our house. We didn’t have A/C back then. My mom even took down her brand new curtains because of the formaldehyde and hung old blankets on the windows. We had to take shelter if a neighbor was spraying his fields. The air purifier ran constantly. But none of those things stopped the voices or the attacks.

So you can see I had to reject the popular kids before they had the chance to reject me. I hand selected a few close friends but in the end I lost them anyway because of Matt.

I hated my life. I didn’t belong. To make matters worse, kids looked at the outside of my big brick house and thought I was richer than they were. In high school I drove a bright red Firebird. I was an exceptionally beautiful child voted most likely to be a supermodel by the graduating class which did nothing to help me fit in when boyfriends of potential friends flirted with me. People envied and hated me for the things they saw outside. Things that I didn’t have any control over. In a heartbeat I would’ve given it up to just have a normal healthy family.

The kids at school could never see the pain and sadness inside of me. After awhile I stopped caring about what people thought. I hated small talk and following all the stupid rules anyway. I said screw them and became a rebel, strong and unreachable. When I got hurt, I retreated to the corner and licked my wounds alone. I had to take care of myself because no one else really cared.

I am still the same person. I try to play the best game with the hand I’ve been dealt. On the good days, I thank God for all my blessings. On the bad days, I reject God because I feel he has rejected me. I can’t sing that God has been good to me all my life when I don’t believe it. Why do I feel like God hates me when I try hard to be a good person? I spent a lot of my life trying to be perfect but it didn’t matter.

What is the purpose of pointless suffering? How has it made me a better person? How does it help anybody else? There will always be a part of me that feels alone no matter how many people are around. Maybe God will always be off in the distance and uncaring just like everybody else. I can’t seem to reach him either. I could never find a way to connect to normal people. My life has been way too crazy. I’ve had very different life experiences.

I will never be the motivational speaker that others seem to be. I am not the one who will tell you my anxiety went away by praying more or that my depression was cured by positive thinking. I don’t have the answers, just more questions. I am a broken person that will never be put back together right. Before my brain finished developing I experienced trauma more than compassion and love. I didn’t have that one teacher who made a difference in my life.

What can I say? I have a lot of trust issues. Who else has my back better than me? How am I supposed to trust?

Maybe someday I’ll get it right. Maybe someday I won’t feel angry anymore. Maybe even someday I will trust. But one thing I do know for sure. Soon I will be telling the full story. And it’s far from boring…

Isolation

I felt very isolated from my family. My brother Luke’s wife Emily gave me a call several weeks before Christmas. Their household had COVID in November so no one was concerned much about that with them. They were planning on renting a place close by and visiting for the holiday. Before that, I didn’t talk to my brothers much about what was happening with Arabella. I hate being the person who only calls with bad news. My brother Luke pretty much has a panic attack every time he sees my number on his caller ID as it is.

We set up a date to get together. Then I told Emily about the struggles I’d been having with Arabella. A week later my mom told me they decided not to come for Christmas. I can’t be sure, but I think it had a lot to do with Arabella. My mom said she wasn’t going to come over here for Christmas because of COVID, but she still could’ve spent time with my brother and his family because they were no longer a threat for her. The other issue is that my brother will not step foot in my parents house with his children as long as my dad is alive or living there. I respect his decision, but it still hurts. I can’t help but think that some of the reason he wasn’t coming home was because he didn’t want his children around my daughter.

I felt very isolated at a time when I could have used the support of friends and especially family. I don’t particularly care if I ever see my dad again either. My kids want nothing to do with him. The relationship with him was strained long before my daughter found child porn on his computer.

There was also a time when my brother Luke and I wanted nothing to do with our brother Matt either due to his mental illness. When he was hearing voices to attack/kill our children, we had to keep them apart for the safety of our children. But I never quite knew how it felt as the mother of someone who is severely mentally ill. It is painful and isolating to feel like we had to handle this by ourselves. I haven’t seen my brother Mark since 2019.

When I was a teenager, my brother Matt was so violent that he was homebound from school. They sent a retired school teacher out to our house. Because of this, I was homeschooled in almost complete isolation from 8th to 10th grade. My brother Matt was psychotic and my dad was always this greasy guy. How many friends do you think I was able to bring home?? Plus we lived in a hoarding house. I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t a pleasant place to live and I couldn’t stand it. I literally wanted to die and childhood couldn’t end soon enough for me because I was so miserable. I lost a lot of friendships because my brother attacked pretty much everyone who was in our house or who came to it.

I am no stranger to isolation. It was different back then. My family were the only ones that lived in isolation. Everyone around us had relatively normal lives. Kids went to school. Adults went to work. The world moved on without us.

When I heard my brother changed his mind about coming to visit for the holidays, I was heartbroken. When Arabella’s friends dropped like flies I felt a crushing sadness because I knew the isolation that was to come.

There is a difference in not being able to visit and not wanting to. The sense of abandonment in that is hard to overcome. But yet I understand it because I’ve stood on both sides of it.

Saying good-bye for now

It’s been a crazy busy week here. Yesterday Paul and I dropped our daughter Arabella off at a residential mental health facility. It was a bittersweet moment. I felt like a great weight had been lifted. This will be her best opportunity to get on the path of living a normal life. If I learned one thing, it’s never to take for granted your health mental or otherwise.

I spent the last couple of days getting Arabella ready to leave. She needed lab work at the doctor’s office, medication, a dental exam, and a COVID test. We also took her out to eat because she finished her high school curriculum. Then there was the process of packing and going through all of her clothes.

I wasn’t expecting to feel as sad as I did when we dropped her off. I had to fight off the tears at many moments and felt emotionally drained. I should be dropping my daughter off at college not at the psych ward of a mental hospital. It was very painful processing the can’t haves instead of the should bes.

I’m not sure if I mentioned this before, my daughter has an eating disorder. It’s not what you think. She is a binge eater and weighs somewhere around 270 lbs. With her money she buys massive amounts of candy, cookies, and sweets. I am worried about diabetes. She gained 13 lbs. in one month. She is at her highest weight.

My daughter is also a hoarder. She had piles and piles of clothes strewn all over her room. I helped her pack, hang up clothes in her closet, and start a get rid of pile. It took hours. In the process I found out that our cat has been peeing on the clothes in her room which created more laundry and garbage. It was so gross. She had the cat sleep with her at night so she didn’t feel alone which really wasn’t a problem until I found out he was using her room as a cat box. The hoarding, which I find so suffocating, comforts her. We overlooked some things (like keeping a clean room) in favor of promoting other things like graduating from high school and not killing herself.

Today I finished cleaning out her room. I took out three full garbage bags and three full recycling bags. It took half the day but it looks sparkling clean. She will absolutely hate it! In the process of cleaning I found a suicide note. Although I do miss her a lot already, I thought about how horrible it would’ve been to have to clean out her room for the last time if she went through with it. I know we are doing everything we can to help her get better. But I do wish she was at college. In a way it feels like she is. One month at a residential facility costs as much as a semester at my other daughter’s private college. I really hope it helps her.

The hoarders

I went to several hoarding houses. It was always a struggle to get to the front door. I had to touch iffy things so I wouldn’t fall as I squeezed through tight passages of old toys, garbage, and practically a timeline of their whole life. I often felt like I violated them in some way. They were showing me parts of themselves I would never want a stranger to see.

What always struck me was the smell even with my mask on of rot and decay. The yard a graveyard of old cars filled with you guessed it, more junk. One place had chicken bones in front of the door the second time I visited. It creeped me out like they were doing some sort of voodoo hex to get rid of me.

As I was leaving one of the houses a woman came home. I felt uncomfortable and embarrassed like I got caught snooping inside of her house. She told me she was remodeling her kitchen. Uh huh, yeah right.

The worst of the hoarding was located underneath a huge tree which had a bug infestation of some sort. The bugs crawled on me some odd mix of a gnat and flea. The woman said the DNR had been out because of the bugs and it was caused by something other than her remodeling.

I felt dirty there. The bugs made me feel creepy and crawly. I wanted to wash my clothes and jump in the shower but again I had more stops to make. Why would anyone want to live that way?

The hoarding caused great sadness in me. My parents are what I consider to be hoarders. They mainly collect paper item clutter such as long paid bills and receipts that they keep in stacks on the floors, counters, tables, and couches. They kept phone books from the 70’s from a different city.

My mom is a big collector of food. Although there are two people living in her house she shops for 10. She has multiple refrigerators and freezers full of rotting food. It causes my mother great emotional distress to get rid of things. It causes us distress that she keeps things.

At times I have to fight off an OCD tendency for cleanliness. For example, last week I washed my windows. While I saw all the imperfections, smudges, and dirt I left behind multiple birds kept flying into the windows. Maybe I have been filled so much with dirt that nothing will ever be clean enough for me. Maybe my perception is off too. Sometimes I have to tell myself that my best is good enough and I have to let the rest go.

My mom is embarrassed to have people over. People feel uncomfortable in a hoarding house especially if they are not used to it. My brother’s sister-in-law stayed there once and said it was so disgusting she was never going back.

My dad rarely showers. You have to be careful where you sit. You have to be careful what to eat. It’s best just not to go there. I mourn that. I want it to be warm, happy, and cozy like Christmas morning but we never celebrate there.

I remember what it was like living there. When the old power lines were taken down in our neighborhood, we went with our mom to collect probably a hundred of the insulators. We had to collect items like the tabs off of soda cans. We never got rid of broken items or outdated technology. My mom still has clothes in her closet from the 1980’s. I could keep going…

They never said no to anything. At one time my parents even accepted a huge unusable old rusty satellite dish. There are rooms in their house that are unusable too. Thankfully they were not much for outdoor displays of hoarding. If a shed is full, it’s time to build another shed.

It’s really hard to understand how hoarding can be satisfying especially for items viewed as junk. Hoarding suffocates me in feelings of despair. Going home is not pleasant. I wish it was. I could write for hours what it feels like to be a clean freak daughter of hoarders…

But as a census worker this was an uncomfortable situation I was already prepared for.

Caring for Matt

It’s been at least a decade since I took care of my autistic brother Matt in my house. A few things precipitated this change. Initially I stopped providing weekend respite care for my parents after Matt was violent towards my daughter.

There may have been a few times I took care of Matt and my mom took my kids although it wasn’t much of a break. It was difficult raising 3 little kids without having much for family support. My mom had to take care of Matt. My brothers didn’t live close. My mother-in-law could barely handle raising the one child she did have, my husband. I found myself bitter towards parents that could dump their kids off and get away every now and then.

But the biggest change for me as a care provider for Matt was when my parents placed him in a group home. I was no longer needed to help out, until now that is. Matt’s group home was closed since the virus started. It is now open but if he goes back this month, he is not allowed to leave.

Originally my mom wanted me to stop by the house every night to make sure Matt was okay under my dad’s care. I told her it would be easier for me to have him stay with us for almost a week which is longer than he has ever stayed with me before.

I told my kids that Matt was coming to stay here for awhile but they wouldn’t have to adjust their lives around him. If it didn’t work out, Matt could always go home and I could check in on him everyday. One of my kids called me selfish for saying that our world didn’t revolve around Matt.

As a child my whole life revolved around Matt and if I had to tiptoe around him in my own house it wasn’t going to work. No other family member is willing to step up and offer to take him in for almost a week. That should count for something.

The whole experience went better than I expected. Although Matt is no longer violent, caring for him is not easy. He is on a special diet. I needed to make separate meals for him. At certain times of the day his medicine needs to be ground up and put into applesauce. He doesn’t have table manners. He farts and belches at the table. Sometimes he gags on his food especially if you bring a napkin near him.

He has poor hygiene. He is a messy eater and soils his clothes. He often wears his clothes inside out and/or backwards. He doesn’t change his clothes often. He refused to shower which he would need assistance doing. He wouldn’t ask for help after using the bathroom and made a mess on the floor. I had to floss his teeth and big clumps of food came out of his mouth which made me feel nauseous. He made a total mess out of the bathroom he used. In all honesty, it did trigger feelings of hopelessness in me.

Not only are my parents hoarders, but they rarely cleaned the house. Cleaning up after Matt would be like fixing up a house before you knew a tornado was going to hit. I didn’t even feel completely relieved that everything was clean after I cleaned once he left. I can’t always clean up messy feelings inside by cleaning the filth in my house.

I felt guilty when I wasn’t spending every minute taking care of him. Most of the time he would sit on the couch and stare off into space when I wasn’t interacting with him. I felt the ingrained need to please him because his life is so sad.

I found his favorite movies and put them on for him to watch. We went on walks together. I talked to him about the shared good memories from childhood. I talked about places and loved ones that long since passed. I talked to him about the things only a sibling would know. All these things helped ease his separation anxiety from my mom. I think things went really well, as good as I could have hoped for.

As a sibling, I worry a lot about what life will be like for Matt when my mom is no longer here. My parents are getting old. It is comforting to know that maybe he will adjust with my help. Matt will probably never be easy to care for but I think he would do well with me. I was impressed with how well he adapted to his new environment. It felt good to be able to help my mom out. In some ways it was nostalgic and strangely comforting for me as well.

 

Trips to the dump

I thought of my grandpa the other day as a baby bee brushed against my fingers.

Things fell apart the summer I turned 13. My grandpa fell trying to get out of bed in the morning and spent the summer in the hospital trying to walk again. It was the year after my brother Matt spent the summer in the hospital. My grandpa wasn’t the same after that. He was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease. Before he came home a wheelchair ramp was added and the bathroom was remodeled to accommodate a wheelchair. He never walked again.

Maybe that was the year things got harder for me. My grandma was one of Matt’s biggest caregivers and now she needed to take care of my grandpa. That put a lot of pressure on me and I stopped my social life before it really even started to help take care of my brother.

But before grandpa got sick, we had some good times together. He used to take me fishing. I must have talked his ear off because he told me I was scaring the fish away with my incessant chatter. Many years later I found out this wasn’t true.

We also had our occasional Saturday morning trips to the dump. Grandpa would back his truck into our driveway to pick up our garbage which wasn’t a lot since we had a burning barrel and a compost pile. My parents are hoarders, so only true garbage was thrown away like used cat litter. Although sometimes that was used in the winter on the ice. Everything had a use or purpose even when it didn’t. Some rooms of the house and even the garage were dedicated junk piles. It was one of the zillion reasons I didn’t have friends over often. Apparently most people seem to find hoarding off-putting.

But anyway, the trips to the dump with my grandpa were wonderful. He was friends with the dump man who was also a hoarder. I swear the guy would go through everyone’s garbage to find treasures to take home. There were bags of garbage everywhere, some were burning in a big pit.

The dump was sandy and smoky. It wasn’t a good place to be on a windy day. But when there wasn’t wind, there were bees. The dump man said I didn’t need to be afraid of the bees. He told me to put out my finger and the little bees would land on it. I did and they tickled my finger. Since then I’ve never been afraid of bees or wasps and they have never hurt me. Of all the things I am afraid of, I’m not generally afraid of animals. My dad was afraid of spiders so he never used them to terrify me. Win, win I guess.

My grandpa and I made several trips to the dump because we were looking for the perfect bike. The dump man started setting aside the bikes for us that others threw away. Then one day we found the perfect piece of junk. Grandpa lovingly painted it purple, my favorite color. He put on a new chain, new tires, and a new sparkly purple banana seat.

One day I outgrew the little one speed bike. My last birthday before grandpa got sick, he took me to the store to buy a bike kit so he could put a ten speed together for me. It meant a lot because he bought it new and also because he took me to the store to buy it. That was the first and last time I remember my grandpa going inside a public place. He refused to leave the house after he was wheelchair bound. We had to fight with him to go to the doctor when he needed to go. He didn’t even go to my wedding. He would even panic if grandma was gone for more than an hour or two.

So when I saw the little bee buzz by the other day, I put out my finger to say hello. It instantly took me back to the trips to the dump. How crazy to have the trips to the dump be one of my fondest childhood memories. I am thankful for that though. My younger brothers barely remember the good times with grandpa before he was in a wheelchair.

 

 

Hoarders and clean freaks

This past weekend my mom came over to help me weed. I didn’t ask for help, she just saw the need.

It got me to thinking about something that I couldn’t place which was bothering me. There was an in-congruence in my thought patterns. My mom is one of the hardest workers I know. Yet she has one of the messiest houses I’ve ever seen. How conflicting the thought was in my mind. I always thought that hoarders were lazy. But are they?

My parents are the biggest hoarders of magazines and papers. They still have a phone book from the 1970’s from a different city that they lived in out of state. They have stacks and stacks of papers that litter the living room floor and all available counter spaces.

My parents kept almost all of their clothing since they got married. Their closets are full of old clothes and jackets. It comes in handy for me when I am going to a costume party.

My mom hoards food. Her cupboards are stocked full of canned goods. All of her refrigerators and freezers (they have several) are full. The refrigerators always smell like rotten food. It is very important to check the dates on items before you eat them. The freshest foods are in the grocery bags that line the dining room floor.

Thankfully for me, my mom kept every school and personal journal documenting Matt’s life in great detail. It has been very helpful for me in writing my book. I don’t think that I could be writing as powerful and moving of a story without her help.

Their hoarding always suffocated me. It was hard to clean the house. The counters were so full of stuff that there was no place to move anything in order to clean it. Then you just put the items back on the cleaned areas. I always felt like I was emptying the ocean a tablespoon at a time. It stirred within me feelings of hopelessness.

My brothers and I are not hoarders. It bothers me when things are cluttered. It fills me with despair. The strange thing is that my parents feel the opposite way. It causes my mother emotional pain to get rid of things. My mom threw out my brother’s baby blanket when he was in his 30’s. She cried and lamented about it for days even though my brother didn’t want it. She tries to get rid of things but it is very upsetting to her.

Sometimes my mom will clean out the cupboards and closets. Instead of throwing things away, she gives them to me. Recently she gave me a bag of my dad’s old worn out socks. It is a little easier for her to give things away then to throw them away even though she must know that is what I will be doing with it.

It is hard for me to understand how my mom’s feeling are tied up in useless things.

It must be very hard for my mom to see her house in the shape that it’s in. She is embarrassed to have anyone over. I wish I could understand. Yet I am glad I do not.

I feel guilty for my mom’s help around my house when she needs it more than I do. It’s overwhelming to try to help her. I would just come in and start throwing things away and she couldn’t handle that. I know, I’ve tried. I feel like my hands are tied. But I know that my brothers and I are going to end up throwing most of the stuff away or getting rid of it someday.

I need to be careful in my own life so I don’t end up on the opposite spectrum. I have a tendency to be a clean freak. Dirt and clutter stresses me out. I want everything to be clean, neat, and organized. But I try not to let it control me.

I also have relatives that are clean freaks. We once went camping with my Aunt Jan. It stormed out and we ended up huddling in my aunt’s garage freezing because we were too dirty to be allowed into her house. I also have an uncle that would host parties and follow his guests around with a vacuum cleaner. I’ve also witnessed him on his hands and knees scrubbing the bathroom floor while guests were over.

I don’t think people at either extreme seem happy. I tolerate uncleanliness when guests are over. But it’s also kind of funny that I picked this topic to write about as I am freaking out about cleaning my house and weeding everything this week to have a perfect house for my son’s graduation party.

But since I grew up in a house of clutter and hoarding, I realize if people really care about me then they are willing to overlook some slight imperfections.

Going home

Today my mom and I went to see Matt for his birthday. He spends the day at a program for autistic children and adults. While we were there, Matt’s caregiver asked him to tell us about his special morning in a high pitched sing song voice reserved for a small child. Everyone was optimistic and cheerful, except me.

I felt such sadness I could cry. My brother should be meeting up with his friends for his birthday, or maybe going out to eat with his wife and children after driving home from a long day of work. His normal isn’t right.

I feel such grief every time I see someone with a developmental disability, especially my brother, that I don’t want to be there. I feel guilty for visiting out of obligation. Visiting makes me think about the families and all of their lost dreams. He shouldn’t be putting stickers on a chart for good behavior, he is a grown man. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.

I feel tired today. I slept good last night. But the night before was restless with nightmares. I was triggered by the developmentally disabled girl backstage. I heard people ask her sister what was wrong with her. I remembered all the times I was asked that about my brother. I got sick of explaining after awhile. They never asked about me.

Then I dropped my mom off at home. I went in and said hi to my dad. He didn’t get many birthday cards or calls this year. I wonder if it will be his last. He looks so old and weak. He rarely leaves the house. No one really cares about him much anymore, certainly not my mother. I want to reach out and help him. But he was a very cruel father. Why should I care? Why is it so painful to see the consequences of his bad choices when I was one of the people he hurt?

I walked through the house. There are still clothes from the 1980’s hanging in the closets. Hoarders. Piles of mail on the table. The same linoleum lies on the floor from my childhood worn with holes in it. Bags full of food line the floor. Dirty dishes clutter the counters. Nothing must be thrown away, but much more to be collected.

I feel depressed. But writing about it makes me feel better. I am starting to process how I feel and why I feel the way I do. I feel sad that my family is broken and nothing I do can fix it.

On the way back home, I drove through town and did not avoid it by driving through the outskirts. I drove by my Aunt Grace and Uncle Harold’s house. I drove past the area where my grandparents lived. I remembered how the town looked when I was a child. It was alive then with parades and festivals. But now it is a ghost town. Small town businesses closed. New houses stand where old homes once stood.

Everything has changed. But I still remember how it used to be back when my aunt, uncle, and grandparents were still alive. The town was alive then and that’s how I want to remember it with my loved ones alive in it. But that is not how it is anymore.

That is what it is like going home. The broken things still have not been fixed. The town and relatives that made my life magical as a child are no longer there. Emptiness.

Writing helps me process the way I feel. I think I understand why it is so hard to go home. Maybe you would feel the same way.