I don’t know how hoarders do it. How they can keep everything they ever had locked away in their house – stacked to the ceiling, scattered on the floor, broken or rotting. As I stand in my basement I feel like a hoarder – boxes stacked to the ceiling, some stuffed with memories and others holding discarded hopes and dreams. There is a lot of discarded hope here.
When Gayle’s mother, Arlene, passed away we boxed up anything that might have sentimental value and stacked them in the basement. Rows and rows of artifacts of her life as an artist, as a music lover, as a champion for those she saw as unjustly treated. When my mother, Jette, died there was less to pack, less ambitions that needed archiving. My mother’s most prized possessions are someone else’s memories, memories that belonged to long dead great aunts and great uncles.
I hate looking in her boxes. They smell of decomposing paper and mildew. It feels like I’m looking at a box that belonged to a child who died long ago. It feels like these items are imbued with her spectral energy, faintly glowing in the dim closet light. Full, if you can call a half empty box full, of her few joyful memories from her childhood: a few pictures of people I will never be able to identify, clothing for paper dolls, and… a threadbare kitty cat..
That is the hardest piece to look at. The decomposing body of her precious cat. A toy cat, yes, but it was once alive with my mother’s imagination. It followed her on adventures, sat beside her when she was happy. And she clung to it with great fondness because it reminded her of how happy she used to be. I hate looking at that cat because it reminds me of how sad she had become. How her potential for this life was wasted in a drug induced stupor, how she was too afraid to step out into the world and do something amazing.
The last time I touched these sacred items it felt like I was touching my mother’s hand. The last time I touched my mother’s had was the day we decided to take her off of life support and I sat by her bed, holding her hand, as I watched her chest rise and fall for the last time.