Like many other Children of Hoarders, my siblings and I were never allowed to have friends over, and very few people ever saw the inside of our house.
My best friend Rose, however, changed that. In this excerpt from Nice Children Stolen From Car, you'll see why I call her:
Friend for Life
copyright Barbara Allen 2009
No one is allowed inside our house; that's our father's rule. Some exceptions are made, of course, for grandparents and a few close family members, but anyone else who shows up at the door is out of luck. They have to wait on the front walk until whoever they are visiting comes outside to greet them.
There are a lot of rules at our house that we kids would like to break, but this isn't one of them. We are desperately afraid if the few friends we have find out how we really live, if they see the towering piles of clutter and dirt, it won't be long before we have no friends at all. Our father's ban on visitors prevents this from happening, so we are more than happy to go along with it.
My best friend Rose, however, is not a fan of the front walk waiting policy. She is also not the type of girl to put up with anything she doesn't like for very long. So one day, when she comes to our house, she not only doesn't wait on the walk, she doesn't even ring the doorbell; she simply opens the front door and walks right in.
My mother and I are in the disaster we call a living room when Rose makes her unexpected entrance. No one has ever just come into our house before, and we are so surprised by her presence that, for a few seconds, we stand paralyzed and speechless. I glance nervously at my mother, wondering what she will do, but she seems uncertain and confused by this turn of events.
“Hello,” Rose says cheerfully. She is looking with great interest at the mountains of debris all around her. I want to run up and cover her eyes before she can see anything else.
“Hello,” my mother answers, and then, something weird happens. It's as if a spell has been broken or some kind of barrier has been crossed. Rose is inside our house and there is nothing we can do about it. My mother shrugs. “Would you like some coffee?”
“Sure,” Rose says, and my mother turns to lead the way into the kitchen.
The kitchen! Oh, God, not the kitchen! I feel a surge of panic; of all the rooms in our house, the kitchen is the worst. That's where our three unhousebroken dogs live; a large piece of plywood propped in front of the kitchen entrance keeps them from escaping and possibly messing up my father's junk piles. My mother now casually slides this board aside, as if it is perfectly normal, something everyone has blocking their kitchen, so we can enter.
I turn to Rose. “Don't we have to be somewhere? Like right away?”
“No,” she says, carefully sidestepping a puddle of dog urine as she follows my mother into the kitchen. She sits down at the table, pushing aside several dirty dishes and empty cereal boxes to make room for the coffee cup my mother is filling for her. A dog nuzzles her ankle.
My mother reaches across me to hand Rose her coffee. To my dismay, I notice a small island of grease floating on the surface of the liquid; I see Rose hesitate briefly before she puts the cup to her lips. She looks at me, then smiles and takes a brave sip.
I watch in disbelief as Rose finishes her coffee. My mother offers her another cup, but she declines politely, saying that she and I have to get going. We say our good byes and, to my great relief, we leave.
“Whew,” says Rose, looking back at the house once we are outside. “That was really something.”
But I don't want to talk about the house.
“You drank it,” I say, admiringly. She probably doesn't realize it, but this simple act has made her my friend for life. “You drank the coffee.”
“Well,” she admits, “I had a little problem when I saw that floating scum. But then I reminded myself that you drink stuff like that everyday.”
She smiles at me. “And you aren't dead yet.”