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Suzy works feverishly and before long she has packaged and piled ten or twelve boxes in an available area just outside the room. It looks like she’s building a wall.
“Since you didn’t say you wanted them, these are mine,” she tells me, fierce in her voice but I sense she is breaking. I catch a glimpse of her face and I see the tracks of tears but her eyes are narrow and her mouth is pinched shut. I cannot offer a suggestion or sympathy when she’s like this. I can’t tell her that while this looks like progress, like things are being cleared away, it is, in fact, only churning. Until things are removed from the house, actually gone, the rest is a hoarder’s game.
I should call the crews in, get the trash bins set up and let them at it.
“We need help with this,” I say, but Suzy isn’t answering. I’m not getting through to her how this has to be dealt with. “What about talking with someone?” I ask, “Like a career counsellor, or come meet my hoarder therapist.”
“Oh, I suppose you think I’m mentally ill. Because I’m not a minimalist like you or Dad! Because I’m not a neat-freak. Because I can’t just turn my back on everything Mom loved.” Her words are spitballs forced through her fear. Fear, I understand.
“Mom would want you to be happy, Suzy. Her stuff didn’t make her happy, not really.”
I listen to Suzy breathing, a long intake until I think her lungs will burst, then whooshing it out through pursed lips. She answers in a voice so low that I have to bend forward to hear.
“She loved you. She always bragged about you.”
She did? I consider this. Mom did name me executor, knowing that I would have to reach out to Suzy to settle the estate. Did she harbor one last hope that we could be family? Hoarding is a disease of optimism, after all. Is she begging me to help Suzy? I don’t know what to say or do next.
“I’ve been thinking...” Suzy is looking for a box, I can only see the back of her head. She’s been thinking...that she wasn’t loved enough? That I was the one who had it easy?
“What if you move in and live here with me?” She continues to take items from the shelf and box them. “We would have more time.”
She turns to me, holding a canister exactly the same as the one she unwrapped upstairs. I stare at the sleeping kitten handle, at the kittens frolicking on the canister, at Suzy’s face melting with hope. I can’t help that my arms reach out, I can’t help that I wrap my arms around the canister, and cradle it like a mother might cradle her newborn baby. I understand the overwhelming desire to buy, the desire to put things into special containers. I understand the difficulty of decisive change. I know this thinking trap, it is wrong. It is wrong, I repeat but my conviction is academic, my heart has come to its home. Suzy says something more, I think she said how we could work on this every day. Then someday the house could be ready.
Mom loved me. Mom bragged about me. I sit down on the bed; enough boxes have been removed that I can see my old bedspread. What am I to do? My body curls into a fetal position as I lie down, my eyes close against the sunlight that falls on my face from the window.
I should fight through this wooziness. I should find the reality questions that I’ve been taught to ask myself. Challenge the cognitive biases, remember what my therapist said. But it is Mom who comes into my head and asks, “What are you going to do?”
My answer, surprise, is a riddle:
I fall off into this familiar inertia, like a switch in my brain has been touched. Safe as the unborn in their mother’s womb waiting for someday. The daylight seeps through my eyelids and my world is a glowing red space.