I love hoarder stories.
I'm fascinated by them. In fact, hoarders have made it into my fiction-writing more often than anything else thus far. My writing is in its infancy, but clearly this is a subject I find rife with inspiration. No less than three of the stories in my collection for my thesis feature some kind of hoarder, including one woman who hoards cats. I'm fascinated by the things people keep, what made them start, what prevents them from being able to get out from under the clutter.
More than one Sunday afternoon I've lost to a marathon of A&E's Hoarders, thinking I'll just watch one more. And pretty soon it's 11:00 PM and I realize those are hours I can't ever get back. And I'm amazed by the stories that still make it into the news. That's some straight up Edgar Allen Poe business.
Hoarding feels Dickensian as much as it feels modern. Things that we can't science out of ourselves: I'm interested in that.
So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised last night when I was a big, dripping, emotional mess when faced with ten years' worth of boxes holding every piece of our children's clothing they've worn since they were born. Yes, every piece of clothing. I'll get to that in a minute. But before I go any further I feel like you should know this: I'm not a hoarder. This isn't my big hoarder confession piece.
What I always wonder, watching the hoarder shows or reading the hoarder stories: what was the original, logical thought that preceded the craziness? The rational thinking before things unspooled and got out of control? It seems like there must have been one. We don't come out of the womb dragging 30 years' back issues of the New York Times or 11 grocery bags full of rotting melon. So at some point, people take a turn in the road and they can't deal.
With our baby clothes, I feel the divergence of my own rational and emotional thought. It is one of the only areas of "keeping" in my life, and not even for the purpose you might suspect. Not because I'm so sentimental that I can't bear to part with a single object of clothing that touched my sweet babies' soft skin. Nope. It started being about thrift. It started being about future plans, and the unknown.
And it got out of control.
When E and I had Addie, we knew we wanted more kids. Since we didn't know if we would have a boy or a girl (but we knew we'd try for another), we put everything she wore in neatly labeled tubs (GIRL 0-3 MONTHS, etc) in the attic.
And then we had a boy.
And then, well, we didn't know. We always said we'd have more kids. By default, E had stayed home with the first two (which was how we thought of them: first) when they were babies. By default. Because I had a job that paid well, and eventually he was back in school. And at the time, it made more sense. I made him swear up and down that I could stay home with the next one(s). I went back to work and cried at my desk in between class periods and my breasts ached until they dried up and I made myself not come home for lunch anymore because it was too hard to leave my infants to go back to teach selfish teenagers who hated me. I had no idea how my body would rail against being away from my babies. But I steeled myself against the agreement we made because I'd agreed to it, because I could do something by earning money for my family, and because it promised something different, later.
And still, we were keeping everything, all these clothes. Because we were poor, barely making it to the end of any month. E was in law school and practically every year I got told the state budget didn't look good, so every year E cleaned out the kids' dressers and packed them up into tubs in the attic. If we ever found ourselves expecting accidentally, we didn't want to also find ourselves unable to pay for clothing for Junior. And for a long time we thought we might plan Junior, too.
But life happened. Our marriage got hard, harder, too hard, and we separated with the intent to divorce. We left the baby clothes where they were. I wasn't able to even think about them, only that somewhere in those tubs upon tubs upon tubs were maybe a handful of special things I wanted to keep. So I left them alone. We came back together. The tubs just stayed.
And eventually enough time passed that I came to a pretty significant realization. Two, actually. First, feeling like I missed out on staying home with Addie and Henry was not a good reason to have another baby, if it was the only reason. And second--the bigger of the two realizations--it wasn't another baby I wanted. It was Henry and Addie as babies I wanted more of. Our family was complete as it was. Nothing was missing.
We agreed. E had surgical intervention to make sure there would be no more babies. It was done. We were done. And yet every summer for the last three, when he wanted to drag all the tubs down out of the attic, I've panicked. The same way I'm panicking as I think about whether or not I'll have a hysterectomy to deal with my frustratingly unruly uterus. These are things I don't need anymore, but they're signs of time passing. Of life moving on. Of permanence. Of my fertility being over.
I sat last night folding clothes and crying and feeling numb in my upper arms. Every piece of clothing I touched was from another time when I thought things were going to be different. It's not that I'm unhappy with how they are, but I was sitting on my carpet in the middle of Thomas the Tank Engine shirts and sequined Ariel costumes, crying for the things I thought were going to happen.
Last night E was so good to me. He brought me tub after tub and just put them in front of me, requiring little more than for me to lean forward and go through each one. He switched off the TV when it became apparent that I couldn't focus coherently on any kind of narrative, even the one in the conversation between the two of us. 98% of the clothes, I didn't care about, I wanted to get rid of. I know I'll feel better once they're out of our attic. I don't like clutter. But what scares me about this process, the reason I've been avoiding it, is that I'm terrified there's something important in there I'm going to miss.
I'm worried I'm going to give these tubs away and then remember. And then the thing will be gone.
And that right there is where I feel that place of unspooling.