Sunday, May 16, 2010

Escape Route

College was the first step on the escape route from my life with my hoarder father. But leaving wasn't easy... This vignette takes place after the events in my memoir Nice Children Stolen From Car. The following posts will be from that transitional time, on my way out of the hoard and into my new life.

Escape Route
copyright Barbara Allen 2010

My father refuses to fill out any of my financial aide forms for college. With his teacher's salary, my non-working mother and six kids, I'd surely qualify for some kind of assistance, but he will not even consider applying. The forms are too intrusive, he says, require too much personal information. "They want to know every pot you have to piss in," he tells me, by way of explanation; and he's not about to share his private business with strangers.

That's what he says, but I know the real story, the true reason for his refusal: several years of unfiled tax returns are buried in a pile somewhere in our house, and he isn't about to get in trouble with the IRS over something like my college education. He isn't paying for any part of my schooling anyway; he's made that abundantly clear, not a cent. So, why should he care, really, if I receive no financial assistance?

But college is my escape route to a new life, and I am determined to go, no matter what obstacles are put in my way. A state school seems to be my most inexpensive option; I apply to the one located the farthest from my parents' house. I am accepted and, by some miracle, I even luck into a bit of financial aide that doesn't require my father's imput.

I can't wait to go, but I'm nervous, too. There are so many things that I don't know, so many things that "regular" people take for granted. Like how often do you wear a shirt or jeans before you put them in the laundry? How do you DO the laundry? How do you make a bed? How often do "regular" people change their sheets?

The way I've been living all these years seems so different, so removed from normal, that I imagine the farthest extreme: sheets, for example, must get changed everyday by the rest of the world. I wonder, with considerable anxiety, how I will learn all these new things; most importantly, how I will ever keep up and blend in.

Then I find out that my best friend Rose has decided to attend the same college, and I breathe a sigh of relief. Rose is my anchor, my link to normalcy. She knows my story, but despite everything, still wants to be my friend. She is the only person I trust enough to ask these important, how-to-live-a-regular-life questions.

I ask her about the sheets, mentioning in an off-hand way what I suspect is the norm.

"Every day?" she exclaims. "You can't be serious! Changing them once a week or even every other week is just fine!"

Once a week! Every other week! I feel my anxiety melting away. I can manage that! Maybe, just maybe, with Rose by my side, coaching me, I might be able fake my new life well enough to keep my old life secret.


  1. Is your memoir published? Couldn't find it on Amazon. I'd read it. Did you reach back to LindaB? I feel so much compassion for your girlhood selves. Thankfully, these days its possible for children like you to find sites like yours to give them hope that they can get through it.

  2. Hi Jo,
    Not published yet. I've had two agents look at it; one wanted me to turn it into a fictional work (which I thought would dilute the power of the stories). The other wanted more vignettes than I have currently, so I've been adding more (certainly no lack of material!) Maybe someday soon!
    Hopefully my sister Linda feels I've reached back to help her in her move to a normal life, thank you for asking.
    I hope my site is helpful to anyone who has lived through this kind of childhood.

  3. hello...I am very impressed by your honesty about this part of your life. I am a clutter bug right now, where my mess is only in the basement where I do my Avon business. But it is getting so bad I can't find things down there and get so overwhelmed by the task of organization that I am constantly putting it off. My two questions to you are, maybe this one has been asked before, why this title for your topic? very misleading. Also how do I go about starting something like this? With an unrelated topic? Thanks for sharing!

  4. Hi Roseanne,
    The title is from the very first vignette, which explains how my sister and I used to come up with "theories" to explain how we may have mistakenly ended up with the wrong family. If you go to the oldest post in January, entitled "Theories," you'll see where the name originated.
    As far as starting your own blog, I found blogspot to be very user friendly and "walks" you through the set up process. What would your topic be? Good luck!

  5. This story is too similar to my own life - I'm headed for college in a month and I'm scared of what my clutter bug mother has taught me. I know I'll have to adjust, but I have no idea what to expect. Your story is giving me hope that there is a way out of these piles of stuff and into the real world (where there's such a thing called interior design)

  6. Dear Elle! You will make your way into the real world just fine! Eventually your life with your hoarder mom will be like a bad movie starring someone else. I've been gone from my hoarder home now almost 35 years, and I have a wonderful life!

    I just read your blog and found your experience very much like my life at your age... may I post a link to it on mine? And would you post a link to mine on yours?

  7. Barbara,
    I'm working on a story for tomorrow's paper (7/27) re: Framingham Hoarding Task Force and would love to talk with you ASAP. If you get this message and can contact me at, I'd love to hear from you.
    Julia Spitz
    MetroWest Daily News

    1. Barbara,
      I am trying to reach you once again. Last time we didn't connect in time. I am hoping we can talk for another article on hoarding. Please get in touch w/ me as soon as possible. Thanks so much. Hope to hear from you.
      Julia Spitz
      NEW EMAIL:
      MetroWest Daily News

  8. I vividly remember the moment when I realized that I would never be eligible for financial aid because my hoarder and BPD mother had never bothered to file a tax return. I felt as though I had been sentenced to prison. She did end up helping me financially as much as she could, but at the cost of full tuition for a state school, which I at times worked three jobs to pay for,plus books, and supplies, and all the expenses of living. My second year I wound up in the doctor's office for "severe anemia" (malnutrition) because I was trying to live off the day old scones they would throw away at the cafe I worked at.

  9. Alison,
    I remember losing my meal ticket mid-semester, and my parents refusing to help me replace it. I had to sneak into the cafeteria to get food until I finally found it. I eventually ended up working there full time to pay for school, and to make certain that I had food.
    Growing up with a hoarder impacts your life in so many ways!


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