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.

 

10. My most embarrassing moment

Day 10: Describe your most embarrassing moment

Back when I was in college, I took a class called Deviant Behavior. One of our assignments was to do something embarrassing, or simply not socially acceptable, in public to see how other people would respond.

While some students did embarrassing things like farting in public or picking their noses, I kind of cheated on this one… I went back to my repertoire of embarrassing moments in my life.

Maybe it was the time that my 350 lb dad decided to mow the lawn up north in nothing but a Speedo. His stomach hung over his underwear so that from the front it looked like he was mowing in the nude. What can I say? It was hot out that day. We gasped in disbelief as the neighbors tried not to stare.

Having my dad walk around in his underwear was nothing new. He used to do that when I had friends over and sometimes he does that when we visit today. He has no problem walking to the end of the driveway to get the mail in his underwear. Let me correct that statement…He does have problems walking to the end of the driveway, so he starts up his lawnmower and rides it to his mailbox in his underwear. He answers the door in his underwear if someone comes a knocking. He pees with the bathroom door open. He will dress up in pajama bottoms to go out to eat, but he only showers once a month. He wipes his teeth on the bathroom hand towel, but doesn’t brush them…There are some things that I am too embarrassed to even tell you about..

Or maybe it was all of the times that Aunt Grace, who had enough money to treat everyone to the meal, would shove everything from the table into her big purse or leftovers container. She would take the little butter dishes, silverware, cloth napkins, centerpieces, creamers, or practically anything they didn’t clear off of the table. She used to grab matches back in the day, but didn’t smoke or a handful of mints on her way out the door. She always insisted these items were hers since she paid for the meal. Or maybe it was her fondness of slapping the butts of my friends that she liked.

Or maybe it was all of the times that I saw my autistic brother expose himself to friends and neighbors. He used to stand at the end of the driveway at my grandma’s house and pull down his pants every time a car drove by. He walked around the house in stained underwear whether people were over or not. Sometimes he wore my mother’s dresses. He would stand out at the end of the dock up north with his pants dropped and pee into the water. Then he would stand there shaking it for awhile as the boaters going by would stare or laugh. Or maybe it was when he would fart, attack people, or swear in public. Hard to say..

Or maybe it was just simply bringing a friend or potential boyfriend back home to a house where there was always dirty dishes with rotten food on the counter and pee on the bathroom floor. I brought them home to a hoarder’s paradise where things don’t get thrown away. Funny thing is…I always preferred the clean freaks…Ha ha ha ha…Sometimes unwanted items would be given away to my brothers or I, but usually it just meant that it was time to build another shed.

Let’s just say that I don’t get embarrassed much by anything anymore…

But as for the most embarrassing thing that I ever did…Back when I was in 2nd grade, I peed my pants in front of the whole class. I couldn’t get the teacher’s attention and couldn’t hold it anymore. Urine leaked down my green tights and puddled into my shoes. I had to walk around all day in a short little dress with nothing underneath..

Now you can probably understand why I skipped the assignment of doing something embarrassing in public…been there, done that, and don’t want to do it anymore..The hardest part was narrowing down my topic of embarrassment.

6. The hardest thing I ever experienced

6. What is the hardest thing you have ever experienced?

My childhood was the hardest thing I ever experienced..

Outwardly, people thought that I had it all. I was voted most likely to be a supermodel by my senior class. We lived in one of the biggest houses in town. People expected me to be happy and perfect all of the time.

But inside our house there was always a fresh stream of piss on the bathroom floor. Dirty dishes covered the kitchen counter. Rotten food festered in the fridge. There were many rooms dedicated to the clutter shrine. Stack after stack of newspapers, magazines, and papers adorned the floor. Broken items and unworn clothing littered the forever unfinished bathroom upstairs. Every surface area was cluttered. But it didn’t matter because no one bothered to visit anyway.

Maybe it would’ve been different if I didn’t have an autistic brother or if my parents didn’t have 4 children within 5 years.

Several friends of my parents told them to beat the autism out of him. Believe me, my dad tried. Not surprisingly, it didn’t work.

Maybe things wouldn’t have been as chaotic if Matt wasn’t autistic. Matt sometimes was violent. Pulled hair..bloody lips..black eyes..bruised arms and legs..a head bashed into a nose..poked eyes…Violence often infiltrated our house. I was told not to retaliate or feel anger because Matt didn’t mean it. Didn’t I know that I was the lucky one?

Sometimes we would get excited about going somewhere, just to get there, and have to turn back home again. Matt wasn’t welcome there anymore..

Then there were all of the rules that didn’t make any sense. For example, I wasn’t allowed to wear hair spray, nail polish, or perfume. I had to sneak a bottle of hair spray into my backpack and get ready at school. That was when we were still able to go to school. Matt’s behavior was so intolerable that he was no longer allowed in school so I didn’t go to school either for 3 years.

I lost a lot of friends after Matt hurt them…

My parents argued constantly. My dad lashed out verbally and sometimes physically as well. Half of the household at one time or another was severely depressed. Nooses hung from empty trees. I was fearful of what I might find when I entered a quiet house.

My mom cried out to God at night asking Him why He was punishing her…

My childhood was a time of chaos, disorder, dysfunction, and despair…

Lilacs, mushrooms, roadkill, and dandelion wine 

Every year when the lilacs bloom, I think of Darryl.

Darryl is my husband’s step-dad. He is a rugged outdoors man of the wild north woods. He doesn’t even have (gasp) internet. Except for being a non smoker, he is reminiscent of the Marlboro man of old. He is tall, lean, and ruggedly handsome for a man in his early 60’s. He has a head full of thick wavy hair. He works full-time as a forklift driver. He is a hard worker and has many other side jobs such as janitor, chimney sweep, and lumberjack. In the winter, he hooks up a plow to his pick up truck to earn some extra money. In the summer, he works in his massive garden.

Darryl lives off the land. In the fall, he is a deer hunter. He even goes black powder hunting. He processes his own venison. He takes the hides from the deer and sews his own clothing. In the winter, he goes ice fishing. In summer, he fishes from his boat. Life for Darryl is simple yet satisfying.

Darryl also picks up roadkill. One time he picked up a dead raccoon off the side of the road. He threw it into a crock pot and served it to my kids telling them it was chicken. They loved it.

I have learned over the years not to eat any of Darryl’s food. He has been known to leave brats in the fridge for months then serve them. Sometimes his food has a funny taste to it. He seems to have a strong constitution though.

Darryl also makes his own wine. He never follows a recipe when he makes his wine out of unusual ingredients such as potatoes or dandelions. It doesn’t always taste the greatest and sometimes has a high alcohol content. People have been known to spend the evening sick after a few glasses. In fact, a couple of weeks ago Paul and Darryl shared a bottle of wine while out fishing. Darryl lost his balance and fell out of the boat. Then he fell several more times on his walk back home. If Darryl offers me his wine, I tell him that I am strictly a beer drinker which isn’t entirely true.

Darryl says that every year when the lilacs bloom, the morel mushrooms are ready. Morel mushrooms are a very expensive delicacy in these parts. One year, he asked us if we wanted to go mushroom hunting with him. It sounded like an adventure, so we went. We combed the woods and found a few. On the car ride home, my skin was crawling with ticks. Darryl and Paul decided to fry up their mushrooms for supper that night. I don’t like mushrooms and was a tad bit worried when they wanted to eat their find since there is a false morel mushroom which is similar but poisonous. Darryl was fixated on mushrooms for awhile and even started carving a large intricate mushroom out of wood.

By far the most interesting story I heard about Darryl happened the time that he cut his leg open with a chain saw. Now Darryl is the cheapest guy that I know. He has been known to dumpster dive or collect items that others don’t want. In fact, he is a bit of a hoarder. His house is decorated in vintage 1970’s mismatched furniture. He has two refrigerators in his kitchen, one works and the other he uses for storage. After he cut his leg with a chain saw, he was too cheap to go to the doctor to get his leg stitched up. So he did it himself. He took a needle and some fish line and sewed it right up. He could win a survival competition hands down (or even tied behind his back)!

Darryl sure is an eccentric fellow. 

 

 

Hoarding, clutter, and cleaning freaks

I am knee deep in fall cleaning right now. I thoroughly clean my house twice a year, once for spring and once for fall. Spring cleaning is the big event of the year where I scrub the whole house with a toothbrush. Fall cleaning is more of a hairbrush clean. I used to thoroughly clean my house after every season, but I really hate dusting. Talk about a useless task! I dust everything and within a half an hour new dust takes over. Then I sneeze for 3 days.

I threw out and donated many items to the point of guilt. I come from a very long line of hoarders. When we sold Aunt Grace’s house, we moved everything into my grandma’s house. When we sold grandma’s house, we moved stuff into my parent’s shed. Now their very large shed is full. Time to build another shed! We did get a large dumpster for my grandma’s house which was emptied 3 times. We made multiple trips to Goodwill to the point where they didn’t want any of our crap anymore. Did you ever hear of anyone getting turned away from Goodwill for over donating? Yeah, me neither.

Yesterday I went to my parents house and watched them struggle to maintain their property. There was a pipe that was leaking into the basement. Mom took me downstairs to look at the damage. There was some water that pooled around food items that expired in the 1990’s. I feel overwhelmed at the thought of cleaning it all out someday. My mom has always been a food hoarder which she attributes to growing up poor.  She has 4 freezers and 2 refrigerators. The cupboards are full of mostly expired food. There are grocery bags sitting on the floor with new food. Downstairs the situation is worse. Multiple peanut butter containers that expired in the 90’s, homemade canned food items from the 80’s, glass containers full of stale grains, corroded cans, juice separating in bottles.

My parents also hoard other things like cars, magazines, paper, newspapers, clothing, blankets, wood, books, movies, old toys, candles, soap, empty jars, tools, and parts. My dad collects electronics, broken parts to fix other broken parts. The floor and chairs are stacked with papers. The dining room table is never clutter free and neither is the kitchen counter. Nothing is thrown out even if it is expired, broken, or useless. Paul’s mom and step-dad are hoarders too. They have 2 refrigerators in their small kitchen. One doesn’t work and is used for storage. Both of our parents have given us some of their junk which we throw out for them. Thankfully Paul and I share the same motto of when in doubt throw it out. Looking at my kids rooms, I think we may have a few future hoarders on our hands. 

As a clean freak, the clutter overwhelms me. I can’t breathe. I feel a lonely emptiness in a room stacked full of clutter. It rises within me a feeling of absolute despair which I cannot explain. It feels hopeless. I want to throw everything away. I want my house to be clean, but no matter what I do it still feels dirty and messy.

A few years back, my brother Luke and his wife brought her sister to my parents house with them for the weekend. Luke’s sister-in-law told my brother that my parents house was so messy that she would never stay there again. Luke told my mom. This started a big fight with a lot of tears and stress from my mom. Luke was hoping that my mom would throw things out like he does, but instead they built another shed. My mom gets very attached to items and needed a lot of moral support to throw out my brother’s baby blanket a few years ago when he was well into his 30’s. We also did not want our old baby clothes for our children. Why do items attach so much hurt for the people who don’t want to part with them and the people that don’t want to keep them?

I have helped my parents countless times in the past. It is so overwhelming to me. It is like emptying a lake with a cup. I feel guilty for not helping them more. I’ll be totally honest, I can’t handle it. It elicits such a strong negative response within me that is unbearable. So I scour every corner of my house. After cleaning I still see all of the streaks in the windows, all the stains on the carpeting, the little yellow rings that don’t come out of my sink and bath tubs, the grease that lingers around the oven, the little spots on the walls, and the cracks in the linoleum. Will we ever be free from cleaning or hoarding? Will we be forever haunted by earthly treasure or trash?