Where it begins and where it ends and where it stays the entire time
August 28, 2009
It’s been five years since my mother and I have seen each other. I am going to her house at 8 a.m. with no notice — I tried to call last night, but her fifth husband, a schizophrenic, cut off their home phone and doesn’t answer his cell. I couldn’t even leave a message because the voice mailbox is full. It always is.
So I couldn’t warn them that Adult Protective Services is coming today, with the ASPCA right behind them.
So here I am, getting out of the cab into the damp summer morning, walking up to the porch, steeling myself, ringing the doorbell. Rehearsing my story, which is total garbage — nobody would believe it.
Her fifth husband, Ray, opens the door. He has rubber gloves on, his thick glasses are fogged, and he seems to be engaged in cleaning. This means they know something’s happening and they’re taking it seriously. Good.
“Hey, kiddo,” Ray says, affably. “What’s up?”
“Hi!” I reply brightly. “I’m so sorry to barge in on you, I tried to call, but…”
I give him the garbage story: “[My brother] got a call from some agency. Apparently, a neighbor called the agency about the house, and the agency couldn’t reach you. So they reached [my brother, whose cell phone number they somehow found], and he couldn’t reach you. So he called me, and I couldn’t reach you. So here I am, I’m here to help you prepare for the agency.”
“Oh, good, we could use it.” He gestured for me to come inside. “Joan!” he yelled. “Joanie! It’s your daughter!”
“Whaaaat?” And there she was, in front of me, smiling that smile. “Jan! It’s so good to see you! What are you doing here?”
“(Garbage story.) Anyway, I know these agencies will want to inspect the place, so let me help you tidy it up.” I hung my bag from the front doorknob, as there was no surface clean enough to put it down, and smiled at them both. “Ray, should I join you in the kitchen?”
*In between what are you doing here and (garbage story), there is a whole book.
- Look around the house and begin to take in the squalor
- The cats, the cats, the cats, the waste
- The horror
- Comparison to last time I saw the place, five years ago, when it was clean and orderly
- Description of Ray: his sloppy, worn out clothes, his bewildered teddy bear affect
- My complex feelings about him, which weren’t even that complex yet, since there was so much more to come to feel complexly about
- The cats, petting them, aching for them, picturing them in cages, wanting to die, what have I done
- But wouldn’t they be better off someplace clean, at least? Someplace less crowded? Somewhere they could all eat, not just the alphas?
- WHY ME WHY ME WHY ME WHY ME I HATE THIS I HATE THEM
- HOW COULD THEY DO THIS TO THESE CATS
- My mother’s history of negligence with animals
- My history of devoting myself to my own cats, starting with a bitey black kitten named Fang who I received from my college boyfriend after having an abortion and falling into a suicidal depression
- Maybe I’ll leave that part out
- I was going to go into my 30 continuous years of being a cat mom, ages 19–49, and how I felt like dying when we lost our last little girl, Velvet; how bereft I felt, how twisted by grief, and how I had to contend once again with my “decision” not to have children, and face a lot of buried sorrow
- I should probably leave that out too
- Description of my mother in her zip-up bathrobe, her hair plastered and pinned to her head from “setting” it the night before
- Description of overwhelming emotion upon seeing her, her beautiful wide smile, how happy she was that I was there
- At the same time, she’d developed a kind of childlike affect, and it was clear that our roles were reversed now — that I was the parent that came here to help her, the parent she never had
- The surprise I felt when I saw her and I instantly loved her again
- After raging at her in my head for years, after umpteen sessions on Judith’s sofa listening to her tell me why my psychotic mother was toxic, after everything she’d done and everything she was still doing to negatively affect my life, my first reaction was love
- How it felt “like old times” being around her, but not in a bad way, in a comforting way
- Jesus fucking Christ this place smells bad
The point was, I still loved her
The scene continues with me going into the kitchen to help Ray clean up, and my mother going to get dressed and do her makeup and hair. Maybe I should talk about how much I loved cleaning, how scrupulously I kept my first apartment; what cleaning meant to me, as someone who lived in group facilities; and/or the bounce I felt at getting my hands on the dirty kitchen, knowing that I was doing something practical about the situation.
I started with the sink full of dishes. Also full of rotted food, maggots (wingless, non-flying), decay, and slime. A mug from the Grand Floridian Resort at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida — one of my mother’s favorite places on earth, since she first took me and my brother there in 1991. He was eight, I was twenty-one, and she couldn’t go on a single ride because of her Multiple Sclerosis, but she didn’t care. She just loved being there.
(Long digression which I will later cut about my own feelings re: Disney World, how I developed my own love of the place, how it was something we had in common.)
“Beautiful place,” I said to Ray, holding up the mug. “I love it there.”
“Isn’t it something?” he agreed, mopping behind me. It honestly felt like a friendly chat between two people who are comfortable with each other. “And that Polynesian Resort, too, that’s something too.”
“We like the Contemporary,” I said. “That’s where we usually stay.” Fruit flies in my face, drain clogged with unctuous globules; a cat pacing on top of the fridge, claiming its two-foot territory.
Contrast this with the Contemporary Hotel and Resort at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, where everything is airy, open, and spotless, with an ionized, custom-blended scent wafting faintly though the air suggesting a clean beyond clean.
Squalor. (Skwaler; noun, from the Latin squalare, which means “to be filthy.”) The state of being extremely dirty and unpleasant, especially as a result of poverty or neglect.
The couch and chair cushions damp from cat pee. We open all the windows. It is instantly much better. The woman from Adult Protective Services will be there around 10:30 or 11; we have two or three hours before then. Maybe we can do this, maybe we can make this place look acceptable.
I have not yet seen the bathroom.
But we have made the kitchen into a brand-new room. Thirteen black garbage bags filled, tied, and propped outside the back door. The smell of Pine Sol fights to make itself known. We can’t do anything about the stains on the kitchen walls, or the way one of the cats pees on the newly mopped floor, but it’s a far sight better than when we started on it.
I chatter about Disney, about my husband, about anything but the impending visit from Adult Protective Services and who might have asked them to get involved. I will not budge from the Garbage Story. I act like all this is just a regular Thursday morning, hastily scooping dirty cat litter from the overwhelmed boxes in every room, trying to vacuum up ants. Reaching down to pet affectionate cats winding around my shins.
Hanging out with my mom and my stepfather, a pair of schizophrenics.
Waiting to see if the caseworker, Ms. V, will declare them to be a danger to themselves.
Do I want her to, or not?
(EXACTLY THE SAME CLIFFHANGER AS LAST POST)