Friday, October 28, 2011

The Call

Well, it wasn't actually a call. It was a text message from one of my younger sisters, one of the three who still live in the same state as my father. It said something like this: "Police are going over to dad's house. No one has heard from him in two days and he isn't answering the phone."
I live in Massachusetts, a state away, and my contact with my hoarder father is pretty minimal. For me, two days would be nothing. Sometimes months go by without any communication between the two of us and, quite frankly, I don't give it a thought. Another sister who also lives in Massachusetts feels the same. It's a relief, really, when we don't hear from him, one of the reasons, perhaps, we have chosen to live where we do.
I had actually been thinking about my father just before the text came. I was writing the date on some documentation for work, and I thought to myself: "Saturday is my father's birthday. I wonder if I'll remember to give him a call." (Sending him a card has always been out of the question; Hallmark doesn't carry a line suitable for abusive hoarder fathers.)
Yet, despite how removed and unconnected I am from him on a daily basis, receiving that text gave me an odd feeling. It was a message that I have been expecting for quite some time now. My father is in his early 80's, lives alone in his hoard, is in poor health, doesn't walk well, and won't allow any support at home, other than one daughter who calls every day to check in on him. I've always known that this is how he will die, abandoned, surrounded by the only thing that really has ever meant anything to him: his stuff. What I haven't known is how I will feel about it when it happens.
I still don't know. The whole thing turned out to be a false alarm. A few minutes after the first text, I received another, from the same sister. "He's all right. Pain in the ass." Apparently the police had pulled into the driveway of my father's house at the same time my father was returning in his own car. He had gone out of town for a couple of days and hadn't told anyone.
I was relieved, of course, but know that this was just a "dry run," with the real call not far down the road.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Book finally done!

Yes, after two years, Nice Children Stolen From Car is finally, completely done, epilogue and all.

Now the agent search begins in earnest (I've had a few nibbles of interest during less finished stages of the book's development, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that things will go well now that I have a completed project.)

Wish me luck and thanks to everyone for their feedback and encouragement along the way.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Post-op: Now, versus thirty-six years ago

On Monday last week I was getting ready for work when my right knee "locked" in the bent position, more or less at a 90 degree angle. No matter how hard I tried, it would not straighten, and the pain was excruciating. I called my husband for help. I was in our bedroom upstairs and could hear him in the kitchen below, cheerfully clattering coffee cups and cereal bowls as he prepared our breakfast. But he apparently couldn't hear my plaintive cries over the breakfast din.

By using furniture, the doorways, and the banister rail to pull myself along, I managed to make my one-legged way downstairs and into the dining room. My husband saw me hop past the kitchen door. "What are you doing?" he asked.

I explained to him the trouble I was having with my knee.
"Does it hurt?" he asked, his face wrinkled with concern. When I responded with a hearty, "Oh, yes!" he queried, "More than having a baby?"

More than having 20 babies, actually. Off to the doctor I went, for X-rays, an MRI, a surgical consult. I had "loose bodies," either calcium deposits or bits of cartilage, floating in the joint space, large enough that they had started to inconveniently wedge themselves into the joint mechanism. I needed to have surgery to remove them but arthroscopically: two little holes, some steri-strips, an ace wrap and crutches for a couple of days. I was home only hours after the surgery and scheduled to head back to work after the long weekend. Amazing.

I say amazing because 36 years ago, when I was 18 and a senior in high school, I had surgery done on the same knee, for basically the same reason. I didn't have the problem with it "locking"back then, but I remember the doctor telling me about the "loose bodies" and "flushing them out." But 36 years ago, that surgery entailed making a five inch incision along the outside of my kneecap. I was in the hospital for three days afterward, then sent to my hoarded home in a cast that extended from a few inches above my knee down to my ankle. With crutches.

"I know your first surgery on that knee was a long time ago, but do you think you remember how to use crutches?" the nursing assistant/rehab aide asked me, as I munched toast in the
recovery room. "It's kind of like riding a bike; it's something you never really forget."

Well, she was right about that. I will never forget that first experience with crutches in the hoard as I tried to wrestle my three-legged way through piles and paths simply to get to the bathroom. The feet of my crutches would either slide on newspaper or get caught in some kind of debris. The upper part of the crutch often couldn't fit through the available space. And the stairs! They were the worst! Even finding a clear spot to put the end of my crutch was a challenge. Of course I fell; my crutch coming down on a surface I thought was solid but wasn't.... just part of a pile. Down I went, crutches flying, cracking my cast in half.

"Oh, well," my father and mother said. "You'll be out of that cast in a couple of weeks anyway. It
probably doesn't matter much now."

In my own home, 36 years later, I climbed the stairs with my crutches with ease: no clutter, a secure railing, a loving husband keeping a watchful eye.

"Hey, honey," he said, "You're doing great."

"Thanks," I said, "But this is nothing."

Monday, August 8, 2011

Post-Hoard Stages of Development

Life after the Hoard
(There is one, and it's pretty great)
copyright Barbara Allen 2011

Another COH suggested I post this on the blog. I call it the "Post-Hoard" Stages of Development, and it describes the evolution of life after the hoard. Most of these are from my own perspective, but I think other COH will find they apply to their lives, too:

Twenties: Completely, overwhelmingly busy... Trying to figure out the ways of the world outside the hoard, learn everything you can about all the basic life skills you never learned to do, and most of all, blend in. Wondering, as you move into your first place of your own, if people will be able to detect, somehow, that you don't know what the hell you are doing.

Thirties: Setting up an actual home of your own, having kids... and now, the real rage sets in. Raising children and striving to be the warm, loving parent they deserve slams you right in the heart with your own loss of a real parent. It drives home how bad your life was, and how undeservedly you had to suffer.
Also, your protective instincts surface: your Hoarder parent won't be allowed to treat your children that way. You work hard to set boundaries and limit the exposure of your kids to your Hoarder Parent. Sometimes there is a real rift between Hoarder Parent and yourself while you figure this out, and they, confused, don't get it at all. A frustrating, exasperating time.

Forties: Boundaries established. Minimal contact with Hoarder Parent, whose hoarding continues, but you've come to the realization that there's nothing to be done and no sense in putting any more energy into that negative situation. Your own parenting is well underway, kids are old enough to understand when you talk to them about your hoarding past and even appreciate what you've been through. You've got your own routine around your home, you keep it the way you like it (either minimalist or messy or somewhere in between), and that's that. You finally like yourself.

Fifties: Kids are almost grown, your parenting seems to be a job you've done well, despite lack of role models. Hoarding past is so *not* a part of your life that it seems more like a bad dream or a scary movie in which you once starred. Life is good... only now your hoarder parent is old and on the decline. What is your responsibility? What will happen if you take none? But you are mature enough now to know whatever decision is made, it is the right one for you.

Sixties: Not quite there, keep you posted.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Please Don't Squeeze the Charmin (R)

This isn't a story from the book, but it could be...
Actually, it's a memory triggered by a question asked by an assistant of Dr. Chabaud, who is doing research on the effects of being raised in a hoarded home on adult children of hoarders. The question: what was one of the worst things I remember about living in my hoarded childhood home?
It was a hard question to answer. As you have seen in previous posts, there are a lot of unpleasant memories. My father's abusiveness to us kids, especially my brother, trumps them all, but that has more to do with my father himself and isn't necessarily related to his hoarding.
The following story is another one of those bad memories. It isn't about something life-threatening or horrifying, just a nasty, disgusting glimpse into what our everyday life in the hoard was like. I call it:

Please Don't Squeeze the Charmin(R) copyright 2011 Barbara Allen

Something is wrong with the plumbing in our upstairs bathroom. No water seems to be making its way there. And since no one is allowed inside our house, we know that no plumber will be arriving any time soon, if ever, to address the problem.

This is the bathroom, of course, with the tub. It is also the bathroom where three unhousebroken puppies live. They don't get along with the unhousebroken adult dogs who live in the kitchen, so my father has decided the upstairs bathroom is the best place to put them. The puppies have chewed the vinyl floor down to the splintered wood and try to climb into the tub with us when we are taking a bath, so it isn't the most pleasant of bathing experiences. We are only allowed to bathe once a week as it is, but it looks like now even that inadequate opportunity will be eliminated.

There is another bathroom downstairs, near the family room. It doesn't have a tub or shower, only a toilet and a tiny utility sink. The floor of this room is covered, as are most of the rooms in our house, with layers of newspapers. Here, however, there seems to be some kind of leak from somewhere; the newspapers are always so wet and mushy they are almost like papier mache, but in a more soupy form. They feel so slimy and disgusting beneath our feet that Cindy and I never go in there barefoot. If we are using the bathroom to take our "bath," (otherwise known as sponging ourselves from head to toe at the utility sink), we wear flip-flops so we can wash our feet, too, and not worry about setting our newly-cleansed toes down onto that gray goo.

Two adults and six kids sharing one small bathroom isn't such a great situation, in my opinion. We are all doing a lot of waiting; waiting accompanied by impatient remarks like "hey, don't take all day in there," and sometimes even frantic pounding on the door.

But worse than the waiting, worse than the pounding, is the toilet paper issue. With all those people using one bathroom, we always run out.

Ours is not a house where things are replaced promptly.
"No toilet paper!" I announce emphatically to my mother and father, the purchasers of this item, the first time this occurs. "Not a sheet left!"

I might as well have said nothing. Days go by, but the metal roll-holder remains empty. Draped over it is a grayish piece of cloth, a rag. This is apparently what all eight of us are supposed to use until one of my parents decides they should finally go to the store and get actual toilet paper.

Well, that's fine for everyone else, if that's what they want to do. As for me, I'm not touching that rag.

I've perfected the drip-dry method.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Monday, January 10, 2011

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