Monday, November 8, 2010
It all began with Beanie Babies. You remember those cute little things that people would stand in line for? Half crazed mortals would gather for hours anticipating that first memorable touch of their prized purchases. They would then seal the precious items in acrylic shells and worship them as if they were the Gods of the Stuffed Animal Universe. Mary was one of those people. She was at every Beanie Baby show, she bought hundreds of the stuffed toys. She spent thousands and thousands of dollars on her obsession.
Mary bought so many of the things that she was in trouble, real trouble. She somehow hooked up with friends of ours at one of the shows and our journey with her began.
Mary and her husband, Chuck, got married and built a little love nest in 1951. She and Chuck embarked on a remodeling project in the late eighties. Before it was half finished Chuck died a horrible, painful death from cancer. Mary was still living in that tiny house when we met her.
Mary was a compulsive shopper. She not only bought Beanie Babies, she bought batteries, she bought camping gear, she bought Thomas Kinkade paintings. She bought just about everything she saw on The Home Shopping Network. Mary spent so much money that she had run through all of her retirement and all of Chuck’s life insurance. She re-financed her house and tore though that. Mary was penniless and was about to lose the home she and Chuck lovingly built decades before.
Our friends were trying to get her a reverse mortgage in an attempt to save her home, but first the bank insisted the remodel be finished. Mary had been living in the house just as it was left the day Chuck died. Half of the house was nothing but bare studs, there was no electricity, there was no real kitchen and no insulation. Chuck had died ten years earlier.
That’s where we entered the picture. Being the owners of a general contracting business we were called in to finish the home. We made an appointment to go with our friends, meet Mary and devise a plan.
Even though we had been warned of what we were about to encounter, nothing could describe the reality. You see, Mary was a hoarder. We were told our senses would be assaulted but we had no idea how assaulted they would be.
The night of our appointment we drove up a hill on a curved gravel driveway and through a thicket of overgrown blackberry bushes and vines. On the crest of the hill was a little white house that looked like it should have been condemned years before.
The smell of rotting trash, body odor, and decaying food hung heavy in the air. It hit us square in the face as we exited the car. It grew more dense with every step we took toward the door. Our friend shouted for us to dodge clay cat litter that covered the ground. It was a thick, slimy mess that appeared to have had been there for years, in fact it had been.
We made our way up the creaky, crooked steps of the decrepit deck and hesitantly knocked on the half-hung door. The door opened just enough for us to see a sliver of the aged face that was staring back. That’s when the odor hit us dead on. I had to try to hide the involuntary retching I felt coming on. I coughed and my eyes were tearing. I turned away in the hope of catching just a tiny ribbon of clean air. It wasn’t to be. After a minute or two I was able to calm my self enough to enter the chaos that awaited us.
After our friend introduced us Mary glanced our way and said, “I have a little trouble with housekeeping.”
No freaking crap! The dilapidated house was filled from the floor to the ceiling with newspapers, boxes and trash. My heart was pounding, my breathing shallow and my stomach was churning. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to make it. I had no choice, I had to take the putrid air deep into my lungs before I died of oxygen deprivation.
Mary turned to lead us through the maze. As she did she stuffed her hands into the back of her dirty sweatpants and frantically scratched her, I’m sure unwashed, back side. As it turned out, that was a nervous habit of hers. We would see it continually in our time with this woman.
We stood surveying the scene when, out of nowhere, a mangy dog raced by us, only he wasn’t on all four paws. He was aggressively pulling himself along the carpet with his front feet while scooting his bottom along the littered path. Oh Holy Mother of God! It was getting worse by the second! At that point I had no idea it was all downhill from there.
We carefully navigated the papers, garbage and trinkets that had been heaped in piles over the years. There was a small pathway that led from room to room. The floor could not be seen, not even where we walked.
There appeared to be a couch in the middle of the living room. It was hard to tell what it was since it, too, was covered. The stained orange curtains were barely hanging from a rotting wooden rod. Dozens of open boxes of baking soda were strewn about the mess in a futile attempt to mask the odor.
Surrounding the walls beautiful glass curio cabinets stood in stark contrast to the rest of the house. They were filled with classic Barbies, Precious Moments figurines and other expensive collectibles. She had to have had tens of thousands of dollars invested in her treasures.
After admiring her collections she was ready to show us the rest of the house. We dutifully followed her as she took us from room to room spinning her tale of woe while continually stuffing her hands in her pants.
In the bedroom there was a small sleeping space carved out on a bed that was surrounded by clothing and boxes. On the bathroom counter was a tiny hot plate, an ancient coffee pot and dozens of frozen food containers. The tub was filled inches deep with dog hair and moldy wash cloths. The water in the toilet was black and the porcelain itself was encrusted with filth. The stench was overwhelming.
The remainder of that first visit is a blur of trash, old cat litter and scratching hands. We left the house and stood beside the car for a moment allowing the cold, crisp air to flow through us. As we got into the car no one spoke. The ride descending the hill was quiet. We were overwhelmed by what we had just witnessed. I knew we were all thinking the same thing. We couldn’t let her continue to live that way, she needed our help. At the bottom of the hill Jeff broke the deafening silence. He turned to our friends and shouted, “What in the hell are you getting us into?”
to be continued....