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I look at her. The scene is totally different than I thought it would be. She should be busy at work, happy to finally clear away the squalor. But she’s enjoying a mid-morning nap. There’s no evidence she’s done anything other than wash and dry those clothes that could be from last week for all I know.
I pull hard on her toe. She turns over, mumbles “Go away,” as the towels slide onto my feet. It is all I can do to not kick the laundry, the sofa, or her.
At the sound of my voice, Suzy’s eyes open and without a word she brings herself upright, then pats around for her eyeglasses.
As quickly as my temper rose, I am sorry. Suzy’s lost her mother, as I have, but for her that means she’s lost her daily companion. They were always close, and I was always happy to let her deal with Mom. Let Mom deal with Suzy. I have not been a good daughter or sister.
“Hold still,” I say in a softer voice, “your glasses are on the floor, I’ll get them.”
“You sounded like Dad for a minute.”
“Never mind,” I say, but I’m staring at the peanut butter jar propped in the flower pot. The loaf of bread on top of the television. The end table balanced on the armchair.
Suzy looks in the same direction as me. Her face turns red. She looks at her feet. I note her mismatched socks and stained sweat pants.
“I haven’t started yet,” she says. “Don’t be mad.”
It’s been rough for her, I know this without having to hear her say it. Just as I know how this situation came to be. I lived here. I did what I could, but when Dad said that either the mess got cleared up or he would clear out, it was only a matter of time. Mom couldn’t change because she didn’t know anything was wrong and I didn’t know either until Dad found the behavior therapist who helped me.
“Well, let’s start now,” I tell Suzy. But each area seems to be a maze with no entry portal. It’s not like me to hesitate, but then I’ve never felt this combination of disgust along with a sense of homecoming. Suzy steps forward, she needs me to tell her what to do. I stop at the tower of packages. The rules of acquisition I have adopted are chasms apart from the way my mother shopped. But as the estate is to be settled, the packages need to be dealt with. Suzy begins to open the first package, not realizing that she’s the decision maker in this. I remember that I must, as soon as possible, discuss Suzy’s plans. When the house sells, she’ll get half. She’ll have her chance, Mom will finally be helping her.
The package yields a lid of some sort with a sleeping kitten for the handle, then out of the packing material the canister appears, shrink-wrapped with a scene of kittens playing. Where did Mom expect to put this new canister? The countertops already contain a mishmash — to be expected perhaps is the toaster, a cookbook, but what about the pile of bills held down by a hammer, the extension cord, and what looks like a live animal trap? This room has lost function. This is a degree of hoarding disorder that I never reached, but many of my therapy group had. Suzy and Mom too, reached this low.
“Oh, I remember Mom ordering this. Isn’t it cute? Wait till she sees it.” Suzy stops when she realizes what she has said, then she bites her lip but it still begins to quiver. “She didn’t...she won’t ever...” her voice breaks, as I come and wrap my arms around her.
“Mom bought a lot of things, she loved that. She had that pleasure.” I offer this to Suzy, pat her back and stifle the rest of my feelings.
Mom loved her stuff, more than she loved anyone in her life or at least that’s what it felt like to be around her. It was part of her sickness. I can’t hold that against her. I’ve battled and not always won against my own acquisition impulses.